I am coming out of hibernation. Actually I escaped from the Northern winter to a Southern beach for a few weeks. The first day of March isn't the same in Durban, but the wind does blow off the Indian Ocean. The last three months I have been swamped by the task of getting two books finished and into the publishers at once; and now it's all over. (I just opened up a group discussion thread on the more exciting project of the two, The Human Economy). In that time I have been watching the OAC slowly grow, but didn't get much involved. But in the run-up to Christmas, I had a couple of ideas I want to raise with you now. Think of it as a harbinger of spring (or the fall if you are in the South)
1. The OAC's Mission
I like the colourfully anarchic feel of the OAC, the unpredictable way that links are made and ideas shared. Sometimes it seems right just to leave it to take its own course without any attempt to give it direction. But I also wonder if we are missing an opportunity by not identifying a mission for the OAC. I don't mean that everyone has to sign up for a constitution or a program. We are not a political party or a professional association. We have some good general principles and a few minimal rules laid out under the About tab. The best part is that we are truly open, as few organizations or networks are. Yet here we are after less than a year, getting on for 3,000 members, an impressive variety of people from all over the world with some interest in anthropology. So what is the OAC for? What do we want to do for anthropology?
This question was actively debated in at least two turbulent patches and I doubt if many want to go back there. But things are a little quiet now, don't you think? It might not hurt to ask what the OAC's mission ought to be. I have some ideas of my own, but it would be good to come up with a bunch of proposals and see if anything consensual emerges. So I am inviting you to say what you think we could aim for. Maybe we can work out how to reconcile the idea of a mission with the freedom each of us already has here.
2. A new window to discuss possible developments
The Admins team have been discussing off and on whether we might add a facility to the main page where members who are interested in developing the range of OAC activities could bring up suggestions, ask questions and take part in a more purposeful discussion about how to take the old Coop forward. We don't know if some people out there would like a chance to have their say or to join in future developments. One way of finding out is this Forum post. We don't have anything concrete in mind, but we would really welcome your suggestions and participation.
Maybe this is two items rolled into one, but the Mission could be taken as one of the issues to be included under the second. We have had lots of new members in recent months and it would be nice to hear from some of you.
1. I understand your concern, of course it would be positive with some kind of common goal and consensus among the members, but I also like the experimental part with this page, that it is open and that anything within anthropology can be discussed, developed and analyzed. Both consensus and conflict can be seen as productive. The reason for me to join OAC is because I want to strenghten my identity as an cultural analyst, I also want to deepen my knowledge about the subject and gain new insight. As an anthropologist, you see the world in a special way, you treat humans and knowledge in a special way and communicate your ideas in a special way. To me anthropology is a craft, a profession, a thinking and an identity, all at one time, you never stop being it, once you have lost your innocence you are stuck so to say. OAC mission should therefore be to offer a "playground" for that identity, a place where you can live out your total being with peers. Its a place were you can explore the richness of the subject and a place were you can introduce new ideas and concepts.
2. I would really like to participate in the future developement of the forum. I have some ideas but will explore the site more first and aslo see what others have to say about this thread.
So what is the OAC for? What do we want to do for anthropology?
These are the questions I was wondering--and asking about--sometime last fall. And I still think they are good questions to ask of the 3,000 or so people who have joined this site. What are they here for? And what are they trying to do? Is there any common goal?
It might not hurt to ask what the OAC's mission ought to be.
I think this line of questioning makes sense. Absolutely.
If you look at some blogs/sites that have a lot of user-generated content, there is always a way for individuals and smaller groups to contribute to larger discussions and debates on the site. The Daily Kos is one good example of a site that has a lot of user-generated content--but they also have some regular writers as well. The key, to me, is finding a way to bring the discussions back to a more central platform. I tend to think that most of the work is going to come from key groups and individuals who head in specific directions. Maybe a good plan would be to find a way to tie [groups] back into the main site somehow--to get more interaction between all of the various parts. Maybe there really is less of a need for ONE goal or ethic, and more of a need to a way to bring everything back to larger discussions??? Then, at least, the debates and discussions that shape the group as a whole could be more visible. As it stands, a lot of the activity is hidden away in little corners.
I've never liked the term "mission statement", but I invite a new arena for discussion about what the OAC should be for and how it can contribute to anthropology as a whole. Now that we have an excellent framework and broad membership in place, I'd like to think about what we can do or add to make the site what we all (as members) want it to be. How can we better adapt this community to serve our needs as anthropologists, researchers, specialists, novices, hobbyists and wandering web denizens? As admin, I'd like to receive more feedback from other members. Are there things that you wish you could find at the OAC that aren't available here yet?
Perhaps we might want to consider diversifying the types and sources of content that users first see when they visit the OAC homepage on Ning. Is there any way that we can encourage more organic, timely sharing of new and interesting anthro (or other) resources, news, reflections, opinions?
A while ago, someone suggested integrating more third-party anthro stuff on the OAC. We can do this via RSS feeds, links, maybe even additional modules and apps provided by Ning. Would this help to generate site-wide conversation on interesting topics? If so, what kind of anthro news/material does everyone want to read? There's no reason why the OAC can't be both a portal for the discovery of new information and a place to discuss it all.
Any forward-looking discussions about the development of the site will hopefully consider brainstorming possible avenues to solve these and related issues of practicality. I like the idea of it remaining a platform open to various interpretations. Thus far, the admin team have attempted to amend the structure of Ning, but more input and action from members in arriving at solutions would seem in tune with our potential as a collective. I second Keith's suggestion that a new window for members input in this way would be nice.
For me, the OAC has always been about providing a relaxed atmosphere which encourages both sharing and experimentation. We have the tools at our disposal to diversify our efforts, but only if we all join in.