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."



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