John McCreery posted a blog here: What do we make of Occupy Wall Street? So far no takers. I have posted a large number of links on the protest movement and the economic crisis over on my Facebook page where the turnover of comments and sharing has been high. The best-known anthropology blogs are humming with personal statements, analysis and links to all and sundry. David Graeber has been catapulted to world fame by the coincidence of his participation in OWS and publicity for his new book, Debt: The First 5,000 Years which offers a compelling anthropological account of the economic crisis and what to do about it.

And what do we have here at the OAC, a community of over 5,000 souls with a common interest in anthropology and worldwide reach? Nothing. I have watched with growing dismay how a culture of apathy has taken root here. In fact I have often considered abandoning the OAC, since so few of the members give to its shared life and as a result the life is slowly expiring from it. New members join with enthusiasm and no doubt they can find something to read in our archives. But these archives are hardly being replenished. We have so many Groups, but most of them ceased to be active long ago. I can't remember when we last had a lively conversation here.

So I asked myself once more, should I throw in the towel? One person can't keep a show like this on the road, however obstinate or committed they may be. Even the group of Administrators have withdrawn from active involvement. So why should anyone else be different? I hate to think that I have a better communal life on Facebook than here, but it is true. Anyway, I decided to have another go. If this one flops, I may as well chuck it in.

So, given that a conversation is unlikely on current precedents, what could the OAC contribute that isn't being done elsewhwere, drawing on our global membership? Surely we could provide links to the protest movement worldwide and especially to any by anthropologists or with anthropology as a theme? In the first reply to this discussion, I will provide a few such links and I hope that others will post some more. A conversation would be a miracle under present circumstances, but you never know...

The curious thing is that the best slogan to come out of this juxtaposition of economic crisis and world revolution is an anthropological one and was arrived at independently by David Graeber and myself at roughly the same time in the last decade. What we want is a human economy. Anthropology was born in world revolution and it will find itself again in this one.

 

 

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"And what do we have here at the OAC, a community of over 5,000 souls with a common interest in anthropology and worldwide reach? Nothing."

Ya, OAC needs a jump start. Where is everyone? What are all of those 5000 people doing? It seems to me that this would be a good place/forum to link up some of these discussions.

"So, given that a conversation is unlikely on current precedents, what could the OAC contribute that isn't being done elsewhwere, drawing on our global membership? Surely we could provide links to the protest movement worldwide and especially to any by anthropologists or with anthropology as a theme? In the first reply to this discussion, I will provide a few such links and I hope that others will post some more. A conversation would be a miracle under present circumstances, but you never know..."

There was a post on the SM open thread that asked why there was so much of a focus on OWS in the US. This is a good point, and I think that the OAC--with its broad membership around the world--could actually provide some different perspectives about these trends and movements, and what they mean from different points of view. I am interested to know if some folks around the world see the movement in the US as legit, or not. What I am not sure is how to wake all these OAC folks out of their slumber.

"Anthropology was born in world revolution and it will find itself again in this one."

Ya, you know, I had one question about economic anthropology in my recent qual exams. And there was one part where I talked about the formalist/substantivist debate. Sometimes that period is referred to the "golden age" of economic anthropology. That's the usual story. Well, looking all around at the current political economic state of affairs, it seems to me that NOW is a pretty good time for a renewed push for economic anthropology to really take on current issues and conflicts. Not just in AAA conferences, but in the public sphere. What anthropology adds to the equation is exactly what you and Graeber highlight: humans. I think this focus on a "human economy" has a lot of potential. And I definitely think that now is the time for economic anthropology to step up to the plate, so to speak. I am not sure if I would call this a new "golden age" of economic anthropology--we probably need something more along the lines of an economic renaissance, no?

Thanks for taking the time, Frank. I know that you have been trying to get something going in the Human Economy group and, apart from me sometimes, you haven't had any interaction.

Frank Broszeit said:

oh please, why always number bashing like those anonym 5000 should do something? You don't have traffic - time to change something.

We do have traffic, but it is passive, lurkers, readers or whatever. It is very hard to get people to write something in a public forum, so we need to understand better what gets them more actively involved, as they once were here, or perhaps a better question is why interest falls off.

I could add some in german but would it help? The question how does listing links help would be interesting to me too.

We have had active groups in Portuguese, German, Italian, Turkish etc, but the main page is probably always going to be in English. This is one of the main contradictions of the OAC and a major explanation for low participation as writers.

 

There's nothing to expect from the academy. If you're not part of it, its useless to talk about economic anthropology. The difference one could make is doing economy/business by yourself. For instance i'm just asking myself how one can build a cooperative bank and or microcredits which fit to small entrepreneurs because central europe has the best preconditions for such a system, according to the microcredit section in The Human Economy. And how is it possible to keep it democratic and keep it running without bankruptcy?

 

I have always kept one foot in the academy and one foot out. I think the best intellectual work is motivated in part by public engagement, but also universities do provide an opportunity to research and write, which politics doesn't. Running a part-time business is a great way to learn economics, but you also need the time for deep reflection and comparison. I believe that academic culture is a dead hand on an organization like this. Non-academics feel estranged from the prevailing tone and the academics always feel they have more important things to do with their time. Hybridity works, but stronger institutions can kill it off.


The answer might be to plan a multi-national project. - even if its just a distance learning seminar where people gather data for their current situation to develope strategies for action.

That's a good idea, but it means some individuals have to take the time to prepare, launch and manage it. I have felt for a while now that we need more energy and enthusiasm among those who are nominally responsible for running the OAC. Administration doesn't take a lot of effort, although Fran Barone does a lot of hardly noticed development of the site. Some of us have got the OAC Press going and the Seminars related to it. But anything that takes other members to commit, like Stacy Hope's activities as reviews editor, runs up against lack of commitment. Perhaps the answer is for two or three people to pursue an idea they are enthusiastic about. I think I have done plenty of that so far, but I usually run out of collaborators. The word Cooperative is the least applicable to what goes on here. At least I can say here that I would be pleased to discuss any initiative with anyone and we could maybe trawl for wider support in the Forum.

Or about the funding.... why not develop a strategy to sustain the site? How about journalistic interventions? If an article gets published some percent of the income will go to the OAC. This is community building too. Asking for 500 bucks just for nothing is a bit curious. The idea about open access papers and e-seminars is great, but how does a human economy can be applied here? Just asking for donations is not very transparent about the the costs and the decision making about what to do with it and if there are not other ways which might work better. I'm just asking how one could apply the human economy not elsewhere but here?

We had a great deal of public discussion about funding when we ditched the ads and went for a paid Ning service over a years ago. The costs of running the site in terms of payment to outside agencies (Ning, domain name etc) come to around $300. I pay for the bulk of that out of my own pocket. I don't mind. It's not a lot. What I crave is energetic free labour to complement my own. As it is, a lot of unpaid work by the Admins has gone into building and maintaining this site, but my share of that has also been the greatest. The idea of asking members to help defray the costs was to use money as another means of involving people. Last year four individuals made contributions and I didn't pocket the cash. This year we came up with another fund-raising idea with a target and the response has been greater so far. Our outgoings are continuous and any surplus will go into paying next year's costs. We don't really need income to run this show, but it is one measure of whether the OAC means something to some members. I agree with you that the human economy starts at home. I would prefer it if it didn't have to be based mainly on an unreciprocated gift of work and money.

Another problem around activists/social entrepreneurs and good doers is that there's a problem about the good old reciprocity. Some people invest a lot of work into a project and others, eg. some recently joined younsters don't dare to change something because they feel not "worthy" enough or won't get the chance. Its also a first step for activists to become frustrated or a burnout if they're doing/wanting too much. I don't know how much it fits here if it's said "I'll chuck in" but it's just a reminder from my fieldword and events like the occupation of public space against the construction mafia around my place.

Well there you have it, Frank. I couldn't express it any better. The people who run the show think they are doing too much and get alienated. Outsiders with ideas and energy feel shut out. That's what we have to change. I have recently had offers of help from Ryan and now you. Let's see if there are any others out there who felt intimidated by what appears to be closed government when in fact there is very little of it. Would anyone else like to explore having a go at reviving this joint in however small a way? It is time for the OAC to move from oligarchy to democracy. But democracy takes effort.
Though I know it runs against the grain of the "Let a thousand flowers bloom" spirit in which OAC was conceived, I note once again that even wild flower gardens are improved by a little judicious pruning and weeding. Day after day, I see Keith welcoming newcomers who have signed up for this or that now utterly moribund group. Is it surprising that after a while they decide the place is dead? An announcement to all of those who have started groups that, failing to generate content on them within, say, a week, will result in their being terminated and relegated to a dusty archive that only the most determined will ever stumble upon might have a bracing effect.
Keith wrote:

"We do have traffic, but it is passive, lurkers, readers or whatever. It is very hard to get people to write something in a public forum, so we need to understand better what gets them more actively involved, as they once were here, or perhaps a better question is why interest falls off."

This issue of passive participation is pretty interesting. In general, it takes a lot of traffic to generate comments. I realized this during the last issue of anthropologies--the post by John Hawks reached a number of views that far eclipsed anything else that was ever posted on the site, and it had about 20 plus comments. So what this tells me is that a fairly small number of comments requires a fairly high volume of views. I am talking about 20 comments for more than 6000 views. This means that a lot of people read, pass links along, write their own responses, etc rather than comment directly. Getting direct participation is not easy, but the more active and interlinked the community the better, IMO.

Re:commenting. I have been wondering about the possibility of opening up a way for people to comment/participate with some level of anonymity? It could be possible that some folks are unwilling to comment because of certain professional issues, etc? Especially among undergrads, etc. Just an idea. But at SM people can comment using a screen name, first name, etc to keep themselves anon if they want. Might be something to think about. The site Daily Kos allows this, and it works really well there. Of course, the same rules for commenting would apply. I am just trying to think of ways that would encourage people who might be hesitant to actively take part.

One other idea I have would be to recruit folks for some more regular features on the site. Something like weekly or bi-weekly or even monthly contributions that would give readers a reason to keep checking in. Friday columns or editorials? Specific writers who cover key issues for the site? Economic anthro Sundays? Anthropology in the news Mondays? Who knows? But I think that some kind of regular content that OAC gets known for would be good. Open Access Saturdays??? Interviews???

Last idea: Is there any way to increase the font size or visibility of the forum and the highlighted blog posts? I think that the new content of the site has to REALLY stand out. Right now all of the content on the front page. Graphically, the active content has to pull people in--some larger headers might help do that.

John wrote:

"Though I know it runs against the grain of the "Let a thousand flowers bloom" spirit in which OAC was conceived, I note once again that even wild flower gardens are improved by a little judicious pruning and weeding."

I totally agree John. Dead links and dormant groups do not encourage participation, since people might join the site, check into a few groups, and then decide that nothing is really happening. There has to be some way to set aside the dead groups, and to keep highlighting content that is active. The active content is key here--as is continually linking things here to other projects, sites, etc. I think that OAC could make a push to really get more traffic using FB and twitter as well. I have been trying to send more links through my own accounts,

By the way Frank...


"While i'm doing fieldwork for my MA thesis about social entrepreneurs, it came to my mind that there's nothing to expect from academy, ok nothing new but got reminded of. If you're not part of it its useless to talk about economic anthropology."

There may indeed be nothing to expect from the academy. But that doesn't mean that we can't take the ideas of anthropology outside of academia and put them to use. I actually think that the insights of economic anthropology ARE meaningful, applicable, and relevant outside of academia. Gillian Tett and David Graeber are making that pretty clear. But then, I also think that many of the ideas of anthropology can be brought to bear upon the academy itself, so maybe we can rethink where it's heading. If the participants of academia can't reshape it and change its direction, then who can???

One good way to start is to look for new ways to communicate, distribute, and access the information and ideas produced by academics. Why, after all, should everything we do be locked behind pay walls and closed off in texts that rarely see the light of day? That's why I think efforts like the OAC can and do matter. But it requires active participation and effort to actually make something of it.
Or, as my paternal grandmother told me, "Learning is like a bank. You can only take out with interest what you put in."

John, you have brought up this point about the Groups before. But maybe its time has now come. I too see newcomers joining and making some bright introductory comment into a void. Not good. But one issue is whether reciprocity is a workable paradigm in a situation of information abundance. The fact is that some people do get a lot from exploring the archives, so we shouldn't make it too difficult for them. I want people to have access to what I have put out there, since there is some good stuff...

 

Ryan, lots of good stuff that I'll come back to. Thanks also for defending economic anthropology...

Will:

"Community is what we make it. I'm not sure what I can contribute here, but I'll give it my best!"

That sounds like a pretty promising start to me. Community is indeed what we make it, and the more folks there are taking part, the more ideas start moving around. I am looking forward to your contributions, Will.
Keith:

"Thanks also for defending economic anthropology..."

Well, you know, after those exams I am still in defense mode, so it was an almost automatic response! Besides, if I didn't think it mattered, I wouldn't be doing it. There are small things that remind me of the importance of the perspectives in economic anthro--like when I watch "business" reports, and when I go to the bookstore and see shelf after shelf dedicated to economics, finance, and business. It matters to people, and I think that anthros have a lot to add to the conversation--or to help change the conversation.

"I want people to have access to what I have put out there, since there is some good stuff..."

 

How about a Hall of Fame? I've noticed that several of the individual bloggers whose blogs I read now have a "Most popular posts" list to the right of their current post. It shouldn't be too hard to rank existing threads by the number of comments they've attracted. Or, a bit more arbitrary, "OAC Favorites," selected by those administering the sight. Like the iTunes or App store recommendations? The old, "You catch more flies with honey than vinegar" idea. 

Frank:


"If you have ever edited a journal - even just one made by student, you won't say: don't pay me for doing it."

Hmmm. Well, I have been working on editing a project for the past 6 months, and I haven't been asking anyone to pay me for it. The project just took off, and I am seeing where it goes. It's been a lot of work, but really interesting so far. I've learned a lot.

So I guess I am wondering what point are you trying to make here. That people aren't willing to do anything for free? Well, plenty of academics spend a lot of time editing, reviewing, and writing articles for journals, and they don't get paid for that. And they often don't even have the rights to their own work, which is the kicker. So the OA movement is about changing the way things work with publishing and information distribution. If we're going to do things for free, we might as well have the rights to distribute our work how we want. That would be a good start.

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