Working in the ad business, one of the most important things I learned was the revolution created by a technology called POS, i.e., point-of-sale systems. They are so familiar now that we hardly pay attention to them; but the appearance of cash registers and credit card readers linked to retailer mainframes destroyed a familiar paradigm. Manufacturers would commission ad agencies or market research firms to do research. The data were analyzed and used to justify marketing strategies. By the time the strategies were implemented, and the new products, packaging and publicity were ready to announce to retailers what they would be selling next year, a year or more had already gone by. But now thanks to POS, the retailers knew every single day, day after day, what was selling and what was not. They'd look at that year-plus-old data and say to the manufacturers, "You are so behind the curve." Add the fact that the sheer proliferation of new products made retailer shelf space the biggest bottleneck to getting any new product to market. Whoops! The manufacturers weren't calling the shots any more.

So, here we have anthropologists. If they do their classic schtick, the go off somewhere for a year or two. They come back, write up, sweat through academic publication cycles. By the time their observations make it into print, they are, five, six, maybe seven years old. Meanwhile, a new breed of tech-savvy entrepreneurs are taking advantage of the Internet and other new technologies to gather and spread information a whole lot faster than that. And they may be reshaping culture faster than anyone can keep up, let alone us sloth-like anthropologists.

Take a look at this piece from Advertising Age, an interview with Bob Wazik, the "inventor" of flash mobs. Ask yourself how anthropology stays relevant in this new world.

Long dureé, big ideas? Maybe. What I saw when I did my fieldwork on pop culture five years ago? Forget it.

Looking forward to your responses

Tags: Anthropology, fast, flash, mobs, or, slow

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Thanks for the link to the Wazik article - since my research includes looking at flashmobs, it is helpful, and insightful, yet in a fascinating way, somewhat inaccurate. That's neither here nor there, though.

I actually find anthropological bloggers to be far more informative and effective than waiting and wishing for print. I can know of changes and research within weeks, if not days, of it happening, and can adjust my information accordingly. There is indeed, as Carole says, a need for slow research, and a need for having our fingers on the pulse of culture. And I concur that there is a desperate need for recognition of work that is published outside the traditional venues within which we ordinarily work. Material such as I will produce from my research will be dated in a heartbeat, and traditional means of disseminating it will render it almost useless except as a historical glimpse.
I very much like the ways in which both Carole and Denice think, and I wholeheartedly join with them in endorsing the need for slow research. Indeed, in my own work, I am constantly striving both for innovation and for enduring value and, if forced to choose one or the other would choose enduring value every time. My model in this regard is Bronislaw Malinowski.

Not, I hasten to add, the strawman Malinowski encountered in derisive accounts of functionalism in anthropological theory classes, nor the simplistic popularizer of potboilers like Magic,Science and Religion. My Malinowski is the author of Coral Gardens and Their Magic and The Sexual Life of Savages, massive tomes filled with meticulously recorded data, data so rich and so solidly contextualized that its value will endure long after currently popular theories are replaced with new enthusiasms.

We know that Malinowski was not the perfect ethnographer. We know from his diaries that he was not always the detached, open-minded observer. Thanks to Annette Weiner, we know that, a man of his times, he failed to pay as much attention to exchanges conducted by women as he did to those conducted by men. His account of garden magic may have been too accepting of the ideology of his chiefly informants. Weiner may be right that it was not the greater danger of fishing at sea but the use of the catch in political games of influence building that made certain fish, like certain yams, the focus of magical interest.

But fully recognizing all that, we still have a man, who finding himself in a situation, certainly made the best of it and produced a body of work that subsequent scholars cannot dismiss out of hand, a foundation on which others can build for generations to come.

That, to me, is a model to emulate.
A quick response, as demanded by the topic, before going back to the mad rush of completing a slow writing process (i.e. a monograph) by 26 Aug. Yes, I too think that we need to move at different speeds as demanded by the task at hand and as afforded by each medium.

One area where I think we could do much better is the time it takes to get feedback on submitted journal articles and books. At present this can vary from one or two days to one year or even longer. Such a change will require of publishers and readers that they commit themselves to reasonable deadlines for giving feedback or to decline the submission straight away so that the author can submit to another publisher. My advice would be as follows (but I welcome other views):

- To authors: demand a prompt commitment to a reasonable deadline for readers' comments (say, max. 3-4 months for a journal article) or withdraw the submission and find a publisher that can make such a commitment

- To publishers and readers: agree to a reasonable deadline asap or decline the submission if you cannot guarantee it.
Hi John,

I am very new in OAC. HOwever I am thinking about newness and its relation to protestantism. The long dureé of newness in protestant countries, mainly in secular-protestant enviroments is very clear. Perhaps we do have to research more about the old production of newness in every area. Best, andres
Alex Golub (Rex), writing on Savage Minds, points to a new essay by Andrew Abbott that speaks directly to the issues raised in this thread. Titled "The Traditional Future: A Computational Theory of Library Research", it includes the suggestion that ethnographers are more like library researchers than conventional social scientists, i.e., because both ethnography and library research engage trained minds in browsing that leads to discovery as new associations form. The test of value in this research is not "Is my original conjecture right or wrong" but, rather, "So that's what I should have been looking for!"

P.S. Special thanks to Cosimo Lupo, who found the link to the full text of the paper.

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