There a lively discussion going on in other regions of the Open Anthropology Cooperative (what a terrific name, by the way) about the sustainability of this initiative. In my experience with those rare scholarly groups that achieve this elusive goal, e.g. Savage Minds, the Association of Internet Researchers (AoIR), or the EASA Media Anthropology Network, the key is to have a committed hard core of people driving the project, preferably with a good mix of backgrounds (nationality, gender, seniority, etc.), but ensuring as wide and sustained participation as possible over time.

With these thoughts in mind, I'd like to propose an OAC Seminar Series that would give the entire Cooperative a regular online gathering place (say 3 or 4 times a year) and contribute towards its sustainability. We would need to invite people to submit working papers of general anthropological interest and then discuss them online over an allocated period of time, e.g. two weeks. For an example of how this can work in practice, see the Media Anthropology Network site where you'll find PDF transcripts of dozens of previous e-seminars.

John

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John,

This is a brilliant idea and one of the features I most hoped would develop here. I think there is a lot of potential to sustain an ongoing series of seminars, especially since there is such a rich variety of sub-groups already forming.

Fran
This is a marvelous idea. I looked over the EASA site, and it looks very useful for the exchange and advancement of ideas.

I would suggest that each OAC Seminar provide a bit of focus, but still leaving things pretty wide open. We could bound it with a geographical region (e.g., Africa, SE Asia), a large idea/issue in anthropology (e.g. Urbanism, Language, Border Studies), or something else. Broad themes would trigger some people to get involved where a general seminar might not generate as much interest.

The biggest unanswered question for each of us: Am I one of those who hard code committed persons who will drive?
Many thanks for all that preliminary feedback!

Well this is very busy year for me but I'd be happy to set this up drawing from my Media Anthropology Network experience and chair the first couple of seminars. After that there would have to be someone prepared to take over and provide some continuity. If we keep the sessions reasonably staggered it's not a huge amount of work, but we would need of course a group of committed supporters of the seminar series.

Please drop me a note off-forum if you'd be interested in helping out with the series in some capacity.
Open Conference Systems is a open source software tool for organizing scholarly conferences, handling such things as conference website, registration, scheduling and open access publication of the proceedings. It builds on, and extends, tools incorporated into Open Journal Systems. It might be helpful to this worthy project but is probably not necessary or the best tool for this job.
It's relatively easy to replace the Ning chat with an embedded or standalone version if that is the consensus. It does seem a bit buggy; is that why no one is using it? Or is it because it's tucked away and no one knows it's there? As Max said, the live chat would be good for real-time debate and discussion and I think it would make it easier than email to organize things like seminars.
I would prefer to keep it simple and tweak the model that has worked in the past. By this I mean asynchronous communication. In my experience with computer-mediated scholarly exchanges, asynchronous exchanges have three main advantages over chat:

(1) people can participate at their own leisure in their spare time from any time-zone, and this would include here the seminar presenter and chair

(2) non-native English speakers and students have more time to compose their messages and therefore feel less intimidated and tend to participate more.

(3) everybody has a bit more time to reflect and to think before posting.

Yes, there is, as always, a trade-off. You lose some spontaneity and speed, but I think this is more than compensated by the more thoughtful and engaged nature of the postings. There are many other areas of this platform for unstructured and spontaneous exchanges, including chat rooms. This would be a rare space for scheduled, structured discussions - as interactive as chat, but a different form of interactivity.

So I'm proposing the following: a programme of asynchronous seminars starting this September to take place right here, at this highly visible central OAC location. I'm happy to organise and chair the sessions for the first semester, after which I would hand over to a successor.

To recruit seminar presenters I suggest a two-pronged approach: a Call for Papers as well as invitations to people who we think are doing work that would interest the broad OAC constituency (all suggestions most welcome). Papers could be research in progress or position papers of the "Anthropology is not ethnography" (Ingold 2008) variety. The seminar steering group's first task is to put together a programme of seminars for the 2009-2010 academic year. How does that sound? Who's on board?

John
John,

As everyone has said, this is a marvelous initiative and I agree with your desire to build on a known model rather than try to invent the wheel from scratch. I think that shows in your reasoned defense of asynchronous exchange over chat.

I wonder how advisable it is to ask people to submit anything they may have in mind. I assume that you or the steering group will then try to sort them into seminar clusters. Usually a call for papers is more specific. There is so much to read on the OAC that I may have missed where you said how you will recruit a steering group. And how do you expect to maintain the prominence of the seminar series on the home page after this initial announcement? Apologies for what seem even to me to be a bunch of lame and disparate questions.
Sorry about the confusion Max, I was actually responding to an earlier comment by Jan in which he said that "Just putting out a call for papers and discussing those papers at a later stage doesn't really sound interactive to me. And that is part of what a seminar is about, ¿right?", after which I understood Francine was suggesting that chat may be more appropriate for a seminar discussion than email or other forms of asynchronous communication. My apologies if I have misunderstood. My point was that interactivity doesn't have to be synchronous.

Yes, I agree we should be open to experimenting with other technologies, or indeed other formats. Another format that we may want to launch at some point is an annual or bi-annual (twice yearly) OAC Debate?Again this would require quite a bit of thinking and organisation.
Many thanks for this suggestion, Carole. I will do.
Thanks Keith, you raise some important issues.

Your point about a specific call for papers is worth pondering. This issue has never arisen with the media anthropology e-seminars because the assumption (repeatedly confirmed) is that people will submit papers that fall under the umbrella of 'media anthropology'. Only once throughout my 3-year tenure running the seminars did I turn down a paper because I thought it strayed too far from the anthropology of media.

Of course, here at the OAC we have any number of anthropological specialisms, so it's much harder to find a theme of common interest and one that people are actually working on. If we are going for a specific call for papers, then I think we need to find a unifying theme that is neither too narrow nor too broad.

On the question of maintaining the visibility of the seminar series within OAC, I expect ning allows for sticky discussions, i.e. discussions that can be held at the top of the forum if and when required? (in this case, for the duration of the seminar)
PS. Perhaps the term 'Call for Papers' is misleading. What I have in mind is not a conference panel but rather a research seminar akin to those held offline in many anthropology (and other) departments, i.e. a place to discuss research in progress.
Sorry John, I was mostly addressing the concern with the chat application on this site not working or not being adequate. This was also in the midst of my frustration with the Ning email system which, at the time, was wreaking havoc on my ability to communicate properly with more than 3 or 4 people.

I think your model for this from your experience with the Media Anthropology Network is the right approach, for the reasons you mentioned above: giving people more time to prepare/reflect, being appropriate for all time zones.

Fran

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