Monday, June 24, 2013

Anthropologizing has moved!

Anthropologizing has a new home! Check it out at

This site will remain live for the time being (until I am sure everything's working properly).

Thank you for reading!

Thursday, June 20, 2013

7 anthropology blogs and websites (and one listserv) you should know about


If anyone is looking for some good anthropology reading material, here is a list of eight online anthropology-related sources that I really enjoy and why. As a whole, they reflect my interests in ethnography, business, consumer research, design, popular culture, and applied social science methods. There a ton of other wonderful sites out there, but I find each of these to provide a wide variety of thought-provoking, non-jargony, and useful contributions to public discussions of anthropological interest (and on a regular basis - no abandoned sites here!) 

For a comprehensive list of anthropology-related blogs (all four fields) that currently exist out on the internet, check out Jason Antrosio's catalog here.

"We would welcome new participants in an online community that has formed to talk about anthropology and design.  Members are interested in the role of applied anthropology in the corporate, public sector, and medical contexts.  Not all participants are anthropologists, but all share the common interest of applying ethnographic techniques and social sciences theory to industrial, software, and other types of product and organizational design." 

Why it's great: This is actually a listserv community open to anyone with an interest in using ethnographic methods at the intersection of anthropology and design. There are interesting and lively discussions and friendly debates on a regular basis; members also share links and ask for advice/assistance on projects (need a good transcription service? need some references on a specific topic?). What I appreciate is that even the most well-known practitioner gurus take the time to contribute to discussions and share their expertise and experiences. Overall, it's a great way to find out about what other people are working on, connect with colleagues, and stay up-to-date on the latest developments in applied ethnography and design. I am constantly learning something here. 

"Anthropology” is far too often misappropriated in support of political/religious agendas, to promote racist or otherwise discriminatory behavior, or simply to pad out improbable sci-fi movie plots. Submit your examples of the flagrant abuse of anthropological theory and practice on the web, in the news, politics or pop culture using the form below. Personal fieldwork failure stories also accepted!"

Why it's great: "Anthropology: You're doing it wrong" = Horribly misinformed yet comedic interpretations (quotes, images, ads, etc.) of fundamental anthropology concepts (race/ethnicity, evolution, you name it) and other social science humor, all submitted by readers on a no-frills Tumblr site. Also pokes lighthearted fun at the nerdiness of anthropologists and their scholastic obsessions.

"The goal of this site is to explore contemporary anthropology through essays, short articles, and opinion pieces written from diverse perspectives.  There is no single way to define the field, hence "anthropologies."  By presenting various viewpoints and positions, this site seeks to highlight not only what anthropology means to those who practice it, but also how those meanings are relevant to wider audiences."

Why it's great: Every one or two months, Anthropologies publishes a thematic issue on some relevant anthropological topic, from archaeology and economics to health and the Middle East. It takes on the feel of a professional academic publication, but looks cooler, is open-access, and features both practitioner and academic voices. It definitely has the "diverse perspectives" and topics thing down, too (just take a look at the archives). 

"Anthropology in Practice (AiP) examines the relationships we share with each other and the world-at-large by drawing on ethnography to explain practical, everyday events and behaviors. It invites everyone to consider and discuss the world around them in terms of history and psychology."

Why it's great: Urban anthropologist Kristal D'Costa does an excellent job of bringing anthropology to the public through this Scientific American-sponsored blog (she used to have her own site before it got picked up by SciAm. She writes about how culture plays a role in our everyday lives, in an easy-to-understand manner. Recent blog posts have focused on topics such as crying in the workplace, car ownership, blue jeans and Easter eggs, but from a sociocultural perspective informed by her interests in identities, technology and history.

No site summary available.  

Why it's great: Insightful, in-depth articles by consumer anthropologist/researcher Gavin Johnston. I always seem to learn something new, and I appreciate his passion for incorporating anthropological theory and application into everything he writes. Recent posts include: metaphor and design, context and mobile devices, usability research, liminality and shopping, and branding. Clearly Gavin is a very intelligent person and anyone in business anthropology, design, usability and related fields would find his site a worthy addition to his or her regular reading list. 

Ethnography Matters
"Ethnography Matters is a space to talk about the blurring boundaries of our craft, where we can gain insight, advice and inspiration from those who are defining what high quality, accessible and innovative research might look like in a future that is increasingly mediated by technology...Since [2011], Ethnography Matters has become a platform for ethnographers and those using elements of ethnographic practice to take part in conversations between academic and applied ethnography in the private and public sector. It has become a place for listening to and thinking about the stories of ethnographers and ethnographic research participants, and for analysis and theory related to the social patterns and contexts of technology."

Why it's great: What isn't great about this site? I love its collaborative, open-access, easy-to-read, non-jargony, visually appealing approach to talking about ethnography and its applications to solving real-world problems. It constantly reminds me of how awesome ethnographic methods are and how to advocate for them with different audiences. Authors presents perspectives on relevant hot topics like Big Data, social networking, and mobile technology. Aside from its standard articles, fieldwork updates, and practitioner interviews, Ethnography Matters occasionally publishes thematic "special editions", the most recent of which was a collection of articles on how to talk to companies about ethnographic research (and its benefits). 

PopAnth: Hot Buttered Humanity

"Popular anthropology for everyone. Exploring the familiar and the strange, demystifying and myth busting human culture, biology and behaviour in all times and places... PopAnth translates anthropological discoveries for popular consumption. Academia does a lot of good work researching, decoding and understanding human societies – past and present... However, our discoveries are often locked away in academic journals. We take anthropology’s collective knowledge and translate it for mainstream audiences, much in the way that popular science books, tv shows and trivia quizzes make even the hardest of sciences accessible."

Why it's great: As with Kristal D'Costa's AiP blog, PopAnth is all about making anthropology accessible and exploring topics that seem mundane but tell us a lot about the role of culture in society. Some recent topics: anthropological perspectives on choosing an engagement ring, an archaeology of the James Bond movie Skyfall, debt, metal theft, and changing rooms. 

Spiked Punch Bowl
"We started this blog because we’re into art and design and how those fit into our everyday lives – the underbelly of social gatherings comes from us both being mumblers and our awkwardness at, you guessed it, social gatherings. At best, this blog will be a go-to for art and design show reviews, musings about cultural artifacts and unusual consumer products, a repository of our own work…at worst, it’ll be our bitching and moaning, but hopefully always entertaining."

Why it's great: The internet needs more blogs like this one, which features refreshing and interesting reflections at the intersection of art, design, anthropology and culture by sisters Seana and Alicia. They seem to think about things that nobody else does, like pondering why cashiers ask you "Did you find everything OK?" when you're in the check-out line at the store and the trend of designers and researchers toting around notebooks. Also not lacking in the visual stimulation department!    


In addition, here are a few blogs that I recently learned about that look promising and deserve a mention (I just haven't had much time to explore them yet).

[Per]Suit of Anthropology
"A blog dedicated to the exploration of modern business trends and perspectives from the view of anthropologist. This blog is a way for me to connect two sides of my professional self that I see in constant dialogue. Though the business world and the anthropological world may not believe it - they have more in common and more to learn from one another than readily acknowledged. Topics covered include Western business practices and the impact of those decisions on socio-cultural institutions worldwide."

The Narcissistic Anthropologist  
"I am trying to give my self a data set of anthropological observations that exist outside my day job... I also think some of this stuff could be interesting to others. I think we are all observers of our world to some degree or another. We all have an inner anthropologist looking around and learning and reacting to the curious bits of human culture. So, I have tasked myself with trying to answer the questions of what “makes” American Culture. Typically speaking, the things that ultimately define or create culture start out on the fringes, or in the “weirdo” space. So I observe a lot of that. But then there is the stuff that can get lost in the mundanity of our day to day that is also particularly fascinating if you REALLY take a hard look at it. It will try to bring that to the fore as well. And I encourage commentary from my readers (if there are any out there),  because human observations only have meaning if assigned it by other humans.  I am deeply interested in the meaning others find out there."

The Anthropologist in the Stacks
"Donna Lanclos [Atkins Library Ethnographer] is an anthropologist and folklorist who trained in 4-fields anthropology at the University of California, Santa Barbara... In 2009, she was hired by UNC Charlotte's University Librarian, Stanley Wilder, to be the Library Ethnographer. In and among all of the interviewing, observations, focus groups, and usability testing, she is still figuring out what that means."


Monday, June 17, 2013

Anthropologists in Practice: An Interview with Amy Schaftlein, Grants and Communications Manager at United Housing, Inc.

Anthropologists in Practice is an ongoing series of interviews featuring anthropologists (and professionals with anthropology training) who work outside of the academy. The goal of the series is to provide a source of information and inspiration to other practitioners and (potential) students of anthropology, and to illustrate the wide variety of jobs, skills and competencies held by anthropologists for employers and anyone else who is curious about what anthropologists actually do. While the interviews all follow a similar framework, each one is unique in its reflections on anthropology training and education, workplace applications, and advice for current and future practitioners.

Tell me a little bit about the organization you work for. How did you end up working there?

I work for United Housing, Inc. (UHI), a not-for-profit housing agency that provides services to families that are under-served by the traditional homeownership industry. UHI was founded in 1994, as an affiliate of the United Way of the Mid-South. In January 2000, UHI formally incorporated as an independent organization working to revitalize declining neighborhoods by supporting homeownership and preserving housing affordable to low-to-moderate income families.

United Housing’s mission is to support the revitalization of Memphis neighborhoods through the provision of homebuyer education, foreclosure prevention, affordable lending products and construction services. UHI goes beyond the traditional sense of homeownership. Our Homebuyer Education program teaches homebuyers about not only how important credit and budgeting are in the buying process, but also the ins and outs of the lending process. Our post-purchase counseling takes it to another level by focusing on how to maintain a home on a budget, and makes sure the new homeowner understands all aspects and responsibilities of owning a home. This ensures long-term responsible homeownership and creates stable neighborhoods and communities. 

The steady decline in home values, population, housing quality and rise in unemployment have had a devastating effect on Memphis neighborhoods since 2008. With the Neighborhood Stabilization Program (NSP) grant awards in 2009 and 2011, along with other local sources of funding, United Housing is able to target transitioning neighborhoods and stabilize property values in Northeast and Southeast Memphis through acquisition and renovation of vacant, foreclosed homes.

I started working at UHI in 2010 after I graduated from the University of Memphis. My professor and mentor, Dr. Stan Hyland, approached UHI’s Executive Director, Tim Bolding, to discuss internship programs in a housing related field, and mentioned my interests in housing policy and neighborhood identity. Previously I was involved with the City of Memphis and the Community Building and Neighborhood Action (CBANA) Problem Properties Collaborative effort to collect data on the home vacancy and blight levels in Memphis. I then worked on a streetscape project with the University District’s Community Development Corporation (UNCDC), so I was involved in housing and neighborhood issues since I began graduate school in 2008. I interviewed with Tim and after a summer internship, I was hired permanently in the fall of 2010.

What is your role at United Housing? Describe your typical workday or some common tasks you perform.

I am the Grants and Communications Manager – I research and write the grant proposals for UHI, as well as report to funders on the progress of our programs throughout the year. I am also responsible for managing the public relations and marketing efforts to build awareness of UHI’s programs and to attract new partnerships and donors. I work on the coordination and planning of our annual events, and coordinate the distribution and creation of our Annual Report and our Strategic Planning sessions. I work with the staff to tell success stories – collecting stories about homebuyers going through our program – on how we helped them, how they like their new homes, and how to get the word out to others who may need help. I help the Executive Director with managing the Board of Directors meetings, volunteer recruitment, and developing internal policies as needed.

I also assist in the development of the Home Matters movement, a movement that was created to raise awareness, on a national scale, of the importance of "home" in America. It looks at housing as more than just a roof over our heads, as something that is an anchor in an individual’s life, that helps people become more civically engaged, have a stronger sense of community, and provide a more stable environment for their families. I attend monthly progress meetings and am working on incorporating the Home Matters brand into UHI's own marketing materials.

Tell me about your anthropology background. What was one of your favorite projects? What are you most passionate about when it comes to anthropology?

I attended the University of Memphis Applied Anthropology graduate program from 2008-2010.  I specialized in Urban Anthropology and more specifically neighborhood identity and housing policy research.  

My favorite project was bridging the diverse neighborhood representation that made up the University District community through symbols and neighborhood events. Memphis has a large faith-based presence, and the local church created a banquet honoring neighborhood leaders that used symbols and language that highlighted the qualities and characteristics of what makes good neighborhood leaders. Each honoree received an angel symbolizing the spirits in human forms that act as intermediaries between heaven and earth. Neighborhood leaders often find themselves resisting or promoting an outside force that is trying to change or affect their communities for better or worse. That banquet empowered local leaders and recognized their efforts with the hope that their work and passion would reverberate across the diverse neighborhoods that make up the University District.

For me, anthropology has played a very important role in community development because it involves all types of organizations, from grassroots nonprofit organizations and local businesses to government agencies, activists and academics who contribute to the social, political and economic well-being of a community. Anthropology focuses on human beings and their cultures, rituals and ways of life, and my training has served me well when navigating national and local policy research and community organizing projects. It opens your eyes to the diverse perspectives that may emerge on one particular issue.

How have you been able to use your anthropology training in your current job? What specific training, skills, experiences and competencies have been most useful to you?

Right now, I am working on a community impact assessment project in the Raleigh neighborhood, where we have acquired more than 12 homes and renovated them for re-occupation. I am working with our Anthropology Department intern, NeighborWorks consultant, and neighborhood residents to survey the property conditions and understand the residents’ experiences living in the neighborhood in order to assess UHI’s impact here. Some of the skills I have used include structured and unstructured survey design, facilitating focus groups, proposal writing, and analyzing qualitative and quantitative data to use in my grant writing and strategic planning efforts.

My anthropology background lends itself well to the creation of a participatory research project like this one. To be successful, I have to understand the sensitivities of neighborhood boundaries, perceptions of safety, and the often divisive topic of homeownership versus renting among residents. Navigating these experiences and recruiting residents to work together on a project like this requires cultural competency. Training in anthropology allows you to take a step back and look at an issue in many different ways, considering many differing perspectives before creating, designing and implementing an evaluation project like this one. Cultural competency can also be useful if you are co-creating a neighborhood plan with a group of residents or if you are trying to navigate internal issues with co-workers.

Do you define yourself as an anthropologist at your workplace, or use another title?

I have talked about anthropology with our Executive Director, since he was also trained in the discipline. Other than that, I do not talk about anthropology a lot at my office. I call myself an anthropologist in certain situations, like while working on a project with an interdisciplinary team (e.g., the evaluation project in Raleigh that  I mentioned above). But for the most part I go with my official title, Grants and Communications Manager.

What advice do you have for current anthropology students when marketing their skills to prospective employers? Is there something you wish you had done as a student to prepare yourself for the workplace?

Get involved as much as possible with local business, nonprofit, or government organizations (whichever sector you’re most interested in). Get to know the “players” in that field, ask for advice, get experience with a project, or volunteer at an event. Volunteer, volunteer, volunteer! Not only will you get to meet some great people and learn about the great work that is going on around you, but you will learn about the operations of how a program or project works from the funding source to the measurable outcomes, and how they are tracking success. 

I was fortunate enough to receive an internship with a local community development corporation that gave me experience in proposal writing and reporting program outcomes to funders, both of which are very necessary skills to have and know about in my current job. Also, you will get to see the local politics in action, and take note of different organizational cultures and how these cultures are shaped by external and internal funding/political environments. Keep your eyes and ears open and you will learn a lot. It’s not all in the books.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Anthropologists in Practice: An Interview with Misty Luminais, Research Associate and Project Coordinator of the Voicing and Action Project at the Social Justice Institute of Case Western Reserve University

Anthropologists in Practice is an ongoing series of interviews featuring anthropologists (and professionals with anthropology training) who work outside of the academy. The goal of the series is to provide a source of information and inspiration to other practitioners and (potential) students of anthropology, and to illustrate the wide variety of jobs, skills and competencies held by anthropologists for employers and anyone else who is curious about what anthropologists actually do. While the interviews all follow a similar framework, each one is unique in its reflections on anthropology training and education, workplace applications, and advice for current and future practitioners. 

Tell me about the organization you work for. How did you end up working there?

I work for the Social Justice Institute of Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. I finished my Ph.D. in May 2012 and was having a hard time getting any interviews for teaching positions. I applied for this position kind of on a lark, as it was not an “anthropology” job. I didn’t really expect to get called back. Once I had my on-campus interview, however, I knew I wanted to be doing this particular work with these particular people.

What role do you play in this organization? Describe your typical workday or some common tasks you perform.

I am the Research Associate/Project Coordinator of the Voicing and Action Project. This project is a collaborative effort between the Social Justice Institute and the City of East Cleveland to collect around 100 oral life narratives in the community on video, focusing on social justice issues, especially racism and inequality. By allowing space for people’s voices, we are able to work with residents of East Cleveland to move toward the “Action” part of the project, which will be a community driven initiative supported by the Social Justice Institute. My time is split pretty evenly between my two titles. As a researcher, I review the collected
interviews for completeness and then code them. As a project coordinator, I run meetings and trainings to keep our researchers engaged and plan out long term deliverables, since part of the mission of the project is to stay constantly engaged with the community.

Tell me about your anthropology background. What were some of your favorite research projects, subjects, courses, or experiences as an anthropology student?

I took my B.A. in anthropology from the University of New Orleans, then went onto my M.A. and Ph.D. in cultural anthropology at Washington State University. I really enjoyed my fieldwork experiences, which were vastly different. For my Master’s degree, I worked on a project in Belize looking at the effects of globalization on ideas of women's beauty. For my dissertation work, I worked with a BDSM group in Texas studying how people use moments of erotic crisis to resist or reinforce hegemonic ideals (
the pervasive ideas held by most members of a society as unquestionably true yet; moments of erotic crisis are when a person experiences intense sensation, either painful or pleasurable, in an erotic context). 

Both of these very different projects can trace their roots to one of the first anthropology classes I ever took – Anthropology of the Body. That class changed my worldview and set me on the course to becoming an anthropologist. It opened my eyes to the idea of different ways of knowing things. Using cross-cultural examples, we learned about how different ways of "knowing what you know" shape people's experiences in the world. 

For example, in the U.S., we focus our beliefs about knowledge on the intellect, downplaying the role of emotions and downright ignoring knowledge gained through the body. We see it bleeding through in the arts and in sports, but "real" knowledge is that which is located in books and universities. However, in the Amazon, some indigenous peoples use psychotropic plants to experience altered states. They would refer to these plants as "teachers." It blew my mind that there were worldviews so completely different from my own. At the same time, my professor grounded us in the edict "making the strange familiar and the familiar strange." After I recovered from the shock and fascination with exoticness, he was able to guide me into critiquing my own society, now that I understood that contemporary Americans didn't have a lockdown on the "Truth" with a capital T. I left that class angry, suddenly aware of the sexism, racism, and classism I had been trained to accept as normal and, to some extent, ignore due to my own privilege. There is no un-learning that lesson. It is what keeps me passionate about anthropology.

Do you have a favorite anthropologist?
It is hard to point to any one anthropologist as my favorite, but my work has been heavily influenced by Gayle Rubin. Although her work on gender is important, I was taken with her study of the gay male leather scene in San Francisco, which
inspired me to respect sexuality and the communities formed around sexuality as legitimate areas of research with valuable lessons about humanity. Her continuing scholarship on queer theory also inspires me. She has also been an important influence on the visibility of queer practitioners in the discipline. As an out lesbian who wrote about sexuality, she made inroads for the queer theorists who followed her. Her work has gained new relevance in the current debates about the role of women's sexualities, from the panic about sex trafficking to slut walks.

What are you most passionate about when it comes to anthropology? 

At its core, anthropology shows us that there are many ways of making a meaningful life. It is fundamentally about learning that there is no one right way to make a meaningful life. It combats partisan, neoliberal, and xenophobic politics by presenting us with living, breathing, working alternatives to the problems we confront. For example, when I hear politicians speak about "traditional marriage" while defending the exclusion of same-gendered couples from a state institution, I want to ask about polyandry as practiced in Tibet, ghost marriages as practiced in China, the existence of female husbands in parts of Nigeria, and the list goes on. Anthropology proves that it doesn't have to be like this. Your answer isn't the only answer.

How have you been able to use your anthropology training in your current job? What specific training, skills, experiences and competencies have been most useful to you? What other academic/professional training do you have and how has that come into play?

I feel like I have a dream job, as I get to do ethnographic work every day. In particular, I know that my love of text analysis was part of what landed me the job. A large part of my training focused on socio-linguistics, so I am able to parse dense interviews. I think another selling point was my ability to use qualitative data analysis software. I recommend that every cultural anthropologist learn how to use it, as people who are focused more on quantitative research are impressed when you can
methodically illustrate a concept like grounded theory analysis. 

In terms of other skills, I need to be able to communicate well with different stakeholders, from community members to researchers to department chairs. I feel like my time in the field prepared me to interact with a variety of people with different priorities and backgrounds. Finally, my passion for people, which was amplified by my training in anthropology, plays a huge role in my work every day. Justice is always in the forefront of all that we do.

While I was writing my dissertation, I worked for a municipal government, which gave me many skills that are useful in my job, including the ability to wade through paperwork when necessary. Although no one sets out to be a bureaucrat, employers really appreciate people who can do all of the follow-through on grant applications or create gantt charts for project schedules. Students have tons of experience dealing with bureaucracy and should definitely emphasize this as a nontraditional skill when looking for work outside the academy. It isn’t the most glamorous of my skills but it has been the most universally applicable.

How have you navigated your workplace as an anthropologist? Do you define yourself as an anthropologist or use another title? Have you taught others about what anthropology can do at your organization? If so, what has this process been like?

I work with a mixed bag of historians, sociologists, activists, and community organizers. When people ask what I am a doctor of, I tell them cultural anthropology, but it honestly doesn’t come up much. I encounter a lot of, “Anthropology – that’s just like sociology, right?” I’ve been able to introduce the concept of emic/etic (insider/outsider perspectives on culture) to many people in my group and I feel like that is a victory.

In many ways, research in East Cleveland harkens back to the ideals of classical anthropology - working with a geographically-bounded, small-scale group (while keeping in mind that all people are enmeshed in larger systems), except that these are Americans in an urban setting. When I am inspired to relate struggle to the indigenous resistance to the Belo Monte Dam in Brazil, my colleagues draw upon Black Liberation movements in the US; it is in this tension that we learn from one another. By focusing on my native culture, I have learned a lot about the internal policies of the United States, which brings my focus on social justice closer to home.

Describe one of your current projects.

Currently, we are working toward a theater production based on the interviews collected by the Social Justice Institute. A playwright has been commissioned to create a narrative from a number of interviews that will tell a story about East Cleveland - how people got there, the current strengths and struggles, and a vision for the future. The piece will engage the community on multiple levels, beginning with residents getting involved in many aspects of the production. We will end the play with a community dialogue and a call to action. It is my job to manage all the pieces of this long-term project. I am excited to be able to use anthropology in a direct way to enact social justice.

What advice do you have for current anthropology students?

It is never too early to start networking. Present at conferences as often as you can, even local ones. Collect business cards. Reach out to authors of books or articles that inspire you for advice on how they got funding or how they developed their topics. Be sure to manage your online identity. This means more than just making sure there are no drunken pictures on Facebook; you need a positive face on the internet. You will be googled before you are interviewed. Begin a blog, especially focusing on the area you want to work in - public policy, healthcare, NGOs, whatever. Even a general blog about the ways you apply scholarship and an anthropological perspective in your own life will help potential employers see the ways your degree could benefit their organizations or companies. Being an anthropologist does not limit you to working in a university. 
Check out Misty's blog: Mistyfication - The Art of Applying Anthropology.
Editor's note: Are you an anthropologist who practices outside of academia? If so, I am currently looking for additional participants for the Anthropologists in Practice series. If you are interested in doing an interview, please get in touch!

Monday, June 10, 2013

Some Guidelines for Design Research

Click here to visit this post at the new home of Anthropologizing.

In a world in which there are so many interesting, useful and innovative products and services to choose from, it still seems all too common for people to go through life spending money, time and energy on things that don't make a whole lot of sense. 
Most of you can probably think of at least one moment in recent memory in which something about a product or service felt off, leaving more to be desired. There might have been a tool you were using that didn't function easily, an app on your phone that was missing a necessary feature, a 1-800 menu that was difficult to navigate, or a government policy that didn't seem to be based on reality. In this moment, you probably thought to yourself, "Who came up with this idea?!" or "Why did they do it this way?!", or felt frustrated or defeated. On the flipside, you can also probably think of at least one instance in the past week in which you were pleasantly surprised at how something facilitated a fun, simple, convenient, and positively memorable experience that left you saying "wow!"  

People sometimes blame crappy design on themselves because they think they have some innate deficit or inability that prevents them from being "smart enough" to use it correctly, when in fact that product or service could have been designed better in the first place rather than make people feel inadequate. Take my grandmother, for example, who thinks she's "too old" to use modern technology. This perception limits her interaction with the outside world because she doesn't think there's anything out there that's easy to understand, use, and benefit from in her life. Others feel powerless or limited in their options, like the busy mom I interviewed about her refrigerator. Even though she loved the way it looked in her remodeled kitchen, it didn't quite work for her family's lifestyle and storage needs, and gave her a bad case of buyer's remorse.

Humans, as inventors of things and generators of ideas, are inherently flawed individuals, which means that there's a chance that the stuff they create is also going to be flawed in some way. But smart companies can manage that risk by incorporating human-centered research when coming up with new ideas or improving existing ones. This means putting in the effort and resources at all stages of the innovation process to understand people's realities through observation, empathy, and engagement. It means gathering data on needs and desires, using insights to design a prototype, and testing and re-testing that prototype until the target audience is satisfied with the result, rather than relying on what "feels right" to "experts" in a particular category or industry.

The best user experience is the one that lets people go on with their lives without having to think too hard or work too hard to accomplish their goals; they are meaningful, relevant, and satisfying. And doing design research is not only good for users and consumers, but for businesses that want to increase confidence in strategic decision-making. This is because good great experiences with products and services lead to happy and loyal customers, which leads to happy, profitable enterprises.  

Here are a few guidelines that I like to keep in mind in order to facilitate successful design research:  
  1. Design with people in mind, not users or consumers.
  2. Actually care about what people have to say, and advocate tirelessly for their needs.
  3. Emotional drivers are important, but you cannot ignore culture.
  4. Get out of the research facility if at all possible; in-context discovery is always better.
  5. Make sure you understand your client's goals, both long-term and immediate.
  6. Mixed-methods projects and triangulation are optimal (= more confidence in results).
  7. An iterative research process is ideal (always trying to improve and refine)
  8. Doing design research is a win-win situation for both people and businesses.

What guidelines for design research would you add to this list?

Monday, June 3, 2013

Anthropologists in Practice: An Interview with Jesse Smith, Curriculum Development and Evaluation Specialist and Coordinator at BRIDGES, USA in Memphis, TN

Anthropologists in Practice is an ongoing series of interviews featuring anthropologists (and professionals with anthropology training) who work outside of the academy. The goal of the series is to provide a source of information and inspiration to other practitioners and (potential) students of anthropology, and to illustrate the wide variety of jobs, skills and competencies held by anthropologists for employers and anyone else who is curious about what anthropologists actually do. While the interviews all follow a similar framework, each one is unique in its reflections on anthropology training and education, workplace applications, and advice for current and future practitioners. This week's Anthropologist in Practice is Jesse Smith, Curriculum Development and Evaluation Specialist and Coordinator at BRIDGES, USA in Memphis, TN.

Tell me about the organization you work for. How did you end up working there?

I currently work for BRIDGES, USA in Memphis, Tennessee.  BRIDGES is a nonprofit organization that focuses on social justice work with youth. The primary focus areas are racial, economic, environmental and education justice. Youth come from across the city to work together in order to learn about and address these issues. One of the great things about BRIDGES is that youth voices and input are valued, and youth are empowered to lead both one another as well as adults in their communities to work to change whatever issues they feel passionate about. They are able to work collaboratively with one another regardless of their socioeconomic backgrounds.
I came back to Memphis to take the position after my colleague and a former professor told me about the opening.   

What is your title and job description? Describe your typical workday and some common tasks you perform.

My current job title is Curriculum Development and Evaluation Specialist and Bridge Builders Change Coordinator. This is a long-winded way of saying that I am responsible for assisting in the research, development and implementation of the social justice curricula at BRIDGES.  Recently I have been writing the curriculum for our 7th and 8th grade summer conference, which focuses on environmental justice and more specifically environmental health in relation to stressors. This has been a rewarding experience because I have had the freedom to write curricula about a topic I have always been passionate about. Additionally, I have gained invaluable insight and experience learning about the experiential learning cycle and how to write activities that follow this framework. In a typical day I may also be working simultaneously on an evaluation piece. BRIDGES is gearing up to launch a longitudinal study of former participants in our programs. We are also actively working on pre/post tests of current participants, facilitator feedback, and other topics. 

The remainder of my time is dedicated to working for the Bridge Builders (BB) Change Interns.  This is our most committed level of Bridge Builder or participant, and I have the privilege of working with 12 high school age and two college age youth who make a one year (or more) commitment to working for BRIDGES for a minimum of six hours per week on a social justice issue of their choice. This year, they have been working on passing a Student Congress, which has been a challenging and rewarding undertaking with the Shelby County and Memphis City School systems merging into a unified school district. The youth act as community organizers to spread the word about their work, and have engaged with numerous other youth and community stakeholders to gain support for their efforts.  As the coordinator for the interns, I serve in a support capacity along with the Director of the Changers to facilitate discussions and activities the group may want to pursue, assist with communications among stakeholders, provide research support including assistance with Participatory Action Research, help them plan events, and more.

Tell me about your anthropology background. What were some of your favorite research projects, subjects, courses, and experiences as an anthropology student? 

I received my B.A. in Sociology and Anthropology from Valdosta State University where I first got my feet wet in data collection (which I love) while living in a small town in Santa Elena, Belize. This was one of my favorite “projects” because I was able to truly engage with participants in a meaningful way and this experience ultimately solidified my decision to go to graduate school.  I went on to graduate from the University of Memphis with a M.A. in Applied Medical and Urban Anthropology and a certificate in Nonprofit Administration.  By far one of my most significant experiences was working with the South Memphis Revitalization Action Plan (SoMeRAP).  This community-based effort opened my eyes to what it means to truly collaborate with others. We worked with various departments at the university, organizations in the community, and most importantly the residents, who were one of the primary driving forces behind this project. It was fascinating to get their perspectives on the social, political and environmental climate of their community and their input on what needed to change and how they could be a part of that change at the grassroots level.

Do you have a favorite anthropologist? What are you most passionate about when it comes to anthropology? 

I do not necessarily have a favorite anthropologist but I do sincerely appreciate anthropologists like Margaret Mead who helped make anthropology accessible to the masses.  I also find Marshall Sahlins and Roy D’Andrade (a cognitive anthropologist) very interesting. And it goes without saying that
Michael Agar has done some truly fascinating work.

I would say that I am most passionate about data collection and research that allow me to work directly with participants.  I have found that these processes allow me to move fluidly between community organizing and evaluation, arenas for which I am passionate but still have a lot to learn about.

How have you been able to use your anthropology training in your current job? What specific training, skills, experiences and competencies have been most useful to you? What other academic/professional training do you have and how has that come into play? 

The vice president of our department and my predecessor are both applied anthropologists, so I have been exceptionally lucky to be able to use my skills as an anthropologist at my job and also to have them valued.  I am fortunate to get to use the field methods that I learned during projects like SoMeRAP and my work in Southwest Memphis near T.O. Fuller State Park and Chucalissa.  Not only did these experiences allow me to practice the application of the different methods I was learning, but they also exposed me to my first real experience in grassroots community organizing.  I am able to use these skills every time I work with the Change interns and am fortunate to rediscover skills and knowledge about different methods through the PAR (Participatory Action Research) work we do.  For example, this year I have been able to assist the Changers in outlining the methodology they intended to use for their work, and help guide them through the development of tools including surveys and interview schedules.  Additionally, the experiences I had in the past conducting focus groups and interviews have come in handy for teaching the Changers how to conduct them and then assisting them in applying their skills. 

I would also say that my training in Nonprofit Administration, my work as an intern at organizations like The Works and United Housing, and a job at the Elachee Nature Science Center have all equipped me with additional tools and an understanding of the culture of nonprofits that have been advantageous. 

How have you navigated your workplace as an anthropologist? Do you define yourself as an anthropologist or use another title? Have you taught others about what anthropology can do at your organization? If so, what has this process been like?

It is has been extremely easy to work as an anthropologist at BRIDGES because there are and have been anthropologists working in the organization. Therefore, the experiences that the other staff have had with these individuals help to shed light upon what anthropologists bring to the table and help them understand that no, we do not all dig up bones!  I have not sat down and specifically outlined what an anthropologist might be able to do or the skill set that one can bring to the table, but I think that through everyday interactions and tasks with my colleagues they are able to see the many benefits of having them on staff. In my everyday work I do not say to people, “hey, I’m an anthropologist,” but it does come up in conversation with new people that I meet outside of the organization, and I am always pleased to identify myself in that way. 

What is the most interesting project you've worked on in your current role? 

The most interesting work I have done so far has been with the Changers, as they are a truly inspiring group of young people, and working with them has encouraged me to again pursue new information and ways of looking at things. 
What advice do you have for current anthropology students for marketing their skills to prospective employers? Is there something you wish you had done as a student to prepare yourself for the workplace?
I encourage anthropologists seeking jobs to be explicit about the skills you bring to the table.  Do not just provide people with a vague description of something you have worked on in the past and expect that they will ascertain on their own the numerous assets you may have.  Instead, reinforce your strengths through examples of tangible/applied work that you have conducted and what you learned from that experience. 

As a student trying to prepare for the workplace, I wish that I had not spread myself so thin. While I was fully committed to whatever tasks I may have been working on, I wish that I had taken a step back to fully immerse myself in certain experiences. While I personally feel that it is a good idea to have a diverse portfolio of skills, I do wish that I had focused less on some things and fully engaged more in opportunities like the community organizing activities and practical application of research methods through some of the projects I worked on.

Editor's note: Are you an anthropologist who practices outside of academia? If so, I am currently looking for additional participants for the Anthropologists in Practice series. If you are interested in doing an interview, please get in touch!

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Study of Practicing Anthropologists: Call for Participation

[Re-posted from AnthroDesign] 

Help Us To Understand the Careers of Practicing And Professional Anthropologists as they relate to Academic Institutions 

Are you a practicing or professional anthropologist working outside of an academic organization?  If so, are you collaborating in any way with an academic institution as part of your professional life?

We are aware from anecdotes that many practicing and professional anthropologists participate in the academic community in one way or another.  But we know little about what this participation is like, how academic responsibilities figure in their careers, and how practitioners are compensated for their academic commitments.  The American Anthropological Association’s (AAA) Committee on Practicing, Applied and Public Interest Anthropology (CoPAPIA) is seeking volunteers to share their experiences and views on this issue in a 30-minute phone interview.  We will draw on the data we collect to make available various models for department-practitioner collaboration and offer recommendations for appropriate compensation.

Please contact Sanne Roijmans at srijmans at memphis dot edu if you would like to know more.  We will follow up with more information on the survey and how you can participate.

Please share this announcement with friends and colleagues who might be interested in the study.


Bill McKinney

Keri Brondo

Mary Odell Butler

Monday, May 20, 2013

My Review of the SfAA 2013 Text Analysis Workshop by Lance Gravlee and Amber Wutich

The following is a review of a workshop I attended at the March 2013 Society for Applied Anthropology conference on Text Analysis (i.e., the interpretation of data from things like transcripts, books, diaries, emails, artifacts, images, events, and basically any other object or observation of human behavior and creation). The workshop was put on by anthropologists Lance Gravlee of the University of Florida and Amber Wutich of Arizona State University. 

I really have nothing but good things to say about the full-day workshop, which was offered at the bargain price of $95 (including lunch!) Eight hours is a long time to sit and learn about anything, but Drs. Gravlee and Wutich presented a very engaging and informative lecture-style presentation with a number of hands-on opportunities to get more familiar with the techniques they discussed (and the analysis software), and expand one's perspective on research design. There was something useful for everyone, no matter his or her level of skill with qualitative methods; the workshop was fitting for students, scholars, and professionals who use qualitative methods in their work, as well as professors seeking pedagogical ideas for teaching the approach. And while I do not currently use text analysis software (I do it old school), I know that lots of people do, and it is an important skill of which researchers should know at least the basics (I've been asked about my familiarity with data analysis software during interviews before, but never had the chance to learn it in my training). 

Here's a quick overview of the general topics covered in the workshop:
  • a review of the "exploratory/unstructured - confirmatory/structured" spectrum of research approaches and inductive/deductive approaches to qualitative research (with a guiding theme of questioning the qualitative/quantitative methodological dichotomy)
  • a review of various traditions of text analysis, including 12 observational and process techniques for inductively identifying themes
  • an in-depth overview of research tasks related to text analysis: identifying themes, building and applying codebooks, describing themes, making comparisons, and building and testing models 
  • a high-level crash-course on how to use MaxQDA analysis software (for which there are institutional/lab and student discounts)
One of the most useful sections for me was the review of text analysis traditions/techniques, which really fleshed out a "typology" of the different types of data/themes to look for during research. Students in anthropology programs (both undergraduate and graduate) typically learn about this sort of thing to some extent. However, in my studies, qualitative methods were reviewed (and definitely read about in case studies/books), but not that deeply delved into from a methodological or training perspective. 

To digress for a second, I think part of the problem is the lack of teaching resources in academic training programs for devoting time to very in-depth teaching of methods in survey-style courses that have to cover a lot of ground. Even though text analysis is the backbone of a lot of the research we do (qualitative, ethnographic, etc.), students, at least at my schools, were essentially taught the basics of it, and were sort of just asked to jump in and give it their best shot (to learn by doing). The way I learned to do qualitative/text analysis was mostly through experience and basic instruction in two methods courses. They were fairly similar to each other in that they provided an overview of lots of different approaches to data collection and analysis (focus groups, interviewing, survey questionnaires, ethnographic methods, and related analytical processes), but nothing as in-depth on text analysis as was provided during this workshop. 

Now back to my review. While we spent the majority of the day learning about text analysis techniques and practicing using them and the software, the presenters also facilitated a highly insightful discussion of the benefits of team-based research for increasing the reliability and validity of data, and how teamwork can improve processes of theme definition and identification, and measuring inter-coder reliability. This is clearly very useful in professional settings, because most research these days is done by teams of at least two or more people, often on teams that are comprised of researchers from different disciplines (e.g., public health, urban planning, design, psychology, etc.) 

If the workshop is offered again at the 2014 SfAA meetings in Albuquerque, don't miss your chance! I especially recommend it for students who wish to enhance their qualitative research skills with a foundation of knowledge for the experiential learning that will take place both academically and professionally. I also encourage academic departments to offer stipends if possible. As a fan of continuing education, I am of the belief that it is never too late to learn, and I am confident that the workshop improved not only my methodological tool kit but also the way I think about research. I cannot wait to use what I learned on my next big project. I also would not hesitate to take another methods-focused workshop from this team if it were offered. 

A bonus: Lance Gravlee and Amber Wutich were both students of Russell Bernard (the veritable godfather of anthropology methods if you ask anyone), and Dr. Wutich is also Associate Editor of Field Methods (a journal on methods in fieldwork). So, it's a great opportunity for students to learn from some of the most knowledgeable people in the field today.