Some of you will have been following the Forum discussion ‘What is open anthropology?’. This has recently been concerned with a controversy over the name of this network, Open Anthropology Cooperative (OAC), in response to blog posts by Max Forte - here and here. We acknowledge his complaint and wish to address it in ways that reflect our own commitment to this site and its members.

Max Forte was one of the founding members and administrators of this network. Issues between us concerning governance arose in a context of spontaneous excitement and haste as each of us brought our different ideas and expectations to a process that took off in a few days. You can read more about this network’s beginnings here.

Early conversations via Twitter, email, blogs and The Memory Bank Forum, before and after the establishment of the Ning network, included the administrators as well as other contributors and observers (Max Forte among them). In the early stages, we floated ad hoc lists of the attributes that might make up a useful site for anthropologists (a place to share ideas, to collaborate, to raise questions, to publish and discuss, etc) and several possible names. No-one then raised the possibility of a conflict of interest or a significant threat to other sites or projects on the web.

This creative process of formulating a dedicated philosophy and purpose for the OAC seemed to reach a provisional consensus. The agreed title ‘Open Anthropology Cooperative’, which came out of pure brainstorming, was chosen for its friendly and encompassing tone which for us encouraged limitless cooperation in the field of anthropology. Max agreed to act as administrator with this title in place and did not contest its usage. Then, following his advice, we tried out Ning as a possible site for developing our idea. Several of us expressed our admiration for his pioneering work as we laid the groundwork for the OAC Ning homepage. At this stage, Max sent the following private message to the rest of the admin team as part of a discussion in which he was an active participant:

“Some of you have been referring, I think, to this page on my site, http://openanthropology.wordpress.com/about/. It is rather long, and a lot of it will be very contentious for many people in this network. I am not sure which parts of that page attracted people the most, but you can feel free to cut and paste and reword as you like, if it helps to move things along quickly. Michael MD Fischer has already taken me to task on the blog for the ways I use ‘open’...so there will be some debate about “what does open mean” (I think some understand it to mean *wide open*).” [emphasis added]

We are not aware when this offer was rescinded or other conditions put on it. Having said that, the admin team acknowledges Max’s current wish to distance himself from this project and would welcome discussion from all members regarding a possible name change for the OAC, in order to avoid confusion with his Open Anthropology project.

The admin team does not claim to own this network any more or less than the other 1500+ members. Our role is to provide assistance and guidance, where necessary, while seeking to maintain a comfortable atmosphere for sharing and discussion within the framework of our own published statement of purpose. We wish now to move forward with the consent of current members.
We therefore ask you to consider the problem and make suggestions on how to proceed.

Should the OAC change its name in light of Max Forte’s complaint? Alternatives suggested so far include:

Open Anthropology Cooperative [no change]
open anthro co-op
Online Anthropology Cooperative
(The) Anthropology Cooperative
Worldwide Anthropology Cooperative

Feel free to suggest others.

The best way to improve the OAC is for all interested members to make their voices heard. We strongly request that all sides refrain from attacking and defaming the character of others. This is a serious and unwarranted offence. Let us rather try to maintain a collaborative spirit in our exchanges. A debate on the Open Anthropology Co-operative’s future should hardly be otherwise! We look forward to hearing from you.

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@Giovanni - I think it is an absolute certainty that a notice will appear disassociating the group that was and might be OAC from the programme framed by Forte's blog. @Nikos you have identified the central issue. @Astrid we are already on the high road by not matching Forte's invective over the past few days. This was never a fight, and that it could only have occurred at all in a gaggle of anthropologists - this is not the way things are done on the net. In any case it is certain that nothing we can now do will impact Forte's humour. Just the fact we discussed this issue transformed many of us into enemies of the planet in his view. A sad man. @Anthropologist, I am sorry you have not been inspired, and in particular that you feel unwelcome. I am glad that you told us. How could this be remedied to avoid estranging others in future? @Philip I think you are basically right - and although many of the additional initiatives that have spun off this site are still nascent (it takes time to build these things) I have seen more activity, higher quality discussion and more initiatives than any previous effort that was not the product of a small group of motivated individuals. @Ryan I can see that the 'open' agenda that has emerged on the net over the past forty years may not be to your taste. We don't need another professional organisation. In the movement that built the net and all that stems from it there is leadership but no leaders, administrators that run facilities but not people, and a staggeringly diverse range of personal political and ethical positions that would seem to defy emergent unity. But out of this comes pockets of transient groups that achieve emerging goals and move on to other transient groups.

The role of the OAC (or whatever) is to provide a medium where all this can take place, not to transparently agree in advance what will be done. There is a very thin line between your 'facebook' and an open anthropology medium, but I think we just might have crossed that line in the summer of 2009.
Comrade Lenin wishes to inform you that in a meeting to which you were not invited he and his few comrades declared themselves 'the majority' (Bolsheviks).

As the numerous and (relatively) kindly Mensheviks discovered it's not productive to engage in conflict with people who thrive on it and are willing to out-escalate you. This leaves no good options, but if disengagement is possible it's recommended.

If it helps to get our minds right with disengagement, it really does matter practically that google will swamp out the 'other' OA site by overprivileging Ning hits. If what Max is up to is appreciated at all, we should not do this. So I'm voting for something other than OA. I'll just start a new happy free-association.

My thanks to everyone who works on this site. What it is is good. If I want something different I'll do the work to make it so. Cheers!
In an odd turn, it was Max Forte's site that brought me here in the first place. Somehow, despite seeing that his site was anything but open (in the sense I was looking for), I decided to follow a link in one of the posts to this place. Unfortunately, it seems my very being here has stirred him up further, as shown his latest blog, where he has made it perfectly clear that any group who'd allow someone from the military in their midst is somehow abhorrent.

Personal insults from the *other* open anthropology site aside, I chose to stay here because of what was implied in the name and therefore I would prefer that the name not change. I concur that there should be an explicit disclaimer up front indicating that this site is not affilitated with Mr Forte's site and provide a link to take someone there if that is where they prefer to be. The Internet is awash with examples of this method being employed to reduce the confusion of visitors to similar sounding sites.


Could the key difference be that on Facebook there is no presumption that people who sign up share an interest in anthropology and are thus more likely to follow and participate in conversations that turn on anthropological topics and sources? Here "anthropology" functions as what complexity theorists call a strange attractor, pulling together all sorts of diverse people who may or may not have a professional interest in the field and may or may not be concerned with disciplinary boundaries and academic careers.

Ryan Anderson said:
Back @ Michael Fischer:
@Ryan I can see that the 'open' agenda that has emerged on the net over the past forty years may not be to your taste. We don't need another professional organisation. In the movement that built the net and all that stems from it there is leadership but no leaders, administrators that run facilities but not people, and a staggeringly diverse range of personal political and ethical positions that would seem to defy emergent unity. But out of this comes pockets of transient groups that achieve emerging goals and move on to other transient groups.
Not the case at all: a more open agenda is certainly appealing to me. And I am definitely not looking for another professional organization. In fact, at first site the OAC appeared to be a non-professional organization of people that could provide an alternative to things like the AAA. That's part of the reason why I joined. I imagined something that got completely away from the format of conference meetings, etc. I was actually pretty interested to see what others had in mind. But my initial enthusiasm did not last too long. Maybe there is time for a comeback.

Since I originally thought it was some kind of organization I was left wondering exactly what it was trying to be. Maybe it was the "cooperative" part of the name that was confusing, but when I first joined I assumed there was some common purpose. It quickly became a factional place where small discussions arose, or fizzled, in tucked away little corners. I attempted to engage here and there, but every conversation either fell flat or lead into an unresolved spiral of commentaries without end. Sure, it was wide open, but nothing seemed to go anywhere. At least not so far.

So in essence this is not an organization as the title (cooperative) implies. It is an open forum or platform for anthropologically inclined people to experiment, converse, whatever. It's a blank canvas, open for interpretation. Great. Let's see what becomes of it.

The role of the OAC (or whatever) is to provide a medium where all this can take place, not to transparently agree in advance what will be done. There is a very thin line between your 'facebook' and an open anthropology medium, but I think we just might have crossed that line in the summer of 2009.

Who knows? Everything that I have seen on here could have been done on Facebook. Groups, instant messaging, creating contacts--all without being separated from the wider public that everyone is supposedly trying to contact and engage with here(if that is still part of this site's mission). Yet, I still think there is potential, as I have said over and over. As a famous singer once said maybe it's time for "a little less conversation and a little more action."

One thing is clear (especially after this whole issue with the name of the site): the really interesting stuff is not going to come about at the larger scale, from the OAC with capital letters, but instead from those pockets of transient groups that you mentioned. Which makes me wonder how necessary the OAC is after all. I guess we'll see...
I just voted for the Anthropology Commons - I was trying to see if that option had been discussed in this discussion, because I liked it and wanted to see if there was a reason why I shouldn't, but I couldn't find it anywhere.
I agree with the person who thought that 'cooperative' suggested a more formal institution with some kind of corporate identity. Commons I like because of fond memories of various 'common rooms' in the UK and the image of us all putting our ideas out to graze.
As for the 'open' debate, I don't have a strong opinion (or indeed, clear analysis) one way or the other so am tending towards the 'change the name to resolve things' stance. (On an aesthetic and functional basis, this site's interface doesn't feel all that 'open' to me... still trying to figure out how it works...!)
Martha, The Anthropology Commons was mentioned by Bdwyer, me and Giovanni da Col, but not really discussed.

Martha Radice said:
I just voted for the Anthropology Commons - I was trying to see if that option had been discussed in this discussion, because I liked it and wanted to see if there was a reason why I shouldn't, but I couldn't find it anywhere.
I agree with the person who thought that 'cooperative' suggested a more formal institution with some kind of corporate identity. Commons I like because of fond memories of various 'common rooms' in the UK and the image of us all putting our ideas out to graze.
As for the 'open' debate, I don't have a strong opinion (or indeed, clear analysis) one way or the other so am tending towards the 'change the name to resolve things' stance. (On an aesthetic and functional basis, this site's interface doesn't feel all that 'open' to me... still trying to figure out how it works...!)
I suppose Open Anthropology is BECOMING of new kind of pragmatic way to do anthropology in 21st century. OAC is just merely "Open Anthropology Lab" and we have only approximations. Now.
Probably, we need more experiments and taking motivation seriously to change the name. May be, in 2010 it could be www.openanthropology.xxx. Why not ?

Keith Hart said:
Martha, The Anthropology Commons was mentioned by Bdwyer, me and Giovanni da Col, but not really discussed.

Martha Radice said:
I just voted for the Anthropology Commons - I was trying to see if that option had been discussed in this discussion, because I liked it and wanted to see if there was a reason why I shouldn't, but I couldn't find it anywhere.
I agree with the person who thought that 'cooperative' suggested a more formal institution with some kind of corporate identity. Commons I like because of fond memories of various 'common rooms' in the UK and the image of us all putting our ideas out to graze.
As for the 'open' debate, I don't have a strong opinion (or indeed, clear analysis) one way or the other so am tending towards the 'change the name to resolve things' stance. (On an aesthetic and functional basis, this site's interface doesn't feel all that 'open' to me... still trying to figure out how it works...!)
The discussion in this thread is pointing in more than one direction, one that concerns the possible name change and one that deals with the OAC:s future goal and development. I believe that the latter is for another thread, conveniently started recently by Ryan in Directions: where to now.

My initial emotional response to the name issue was to suggest that name 'Open Anthropology Cooperative' should be kept. I spent several hours reading both "sides" of the story, figuring out what the dispute really consists of. I like the liberal idea of the OAC since it doesn't point in a specific direction, and my being a member of the community gives me the chance to enjoy or disagree, and engage in any discussion that appeals to me. The no-strings-attached approach suits me pretty well, and the OAC name seems appropriate for the network when it comes to the words alone.

I now grasp the wider political dimension of the whole deal and realize that Forte's position in the whole situation requires attention. The more I read and re-read about the issue at hand, I wonder if I haven't been a bit hasty in my suggestion about keeping the name after all. Semantics in one thing, what words mean and what the Ning network is suggested to be, but then there is this whole array of misinterpretations, misunderstandings, quick decisions and applications, and other quirks all around the place that I feel are unfortunate and at times somewhat unpleasant.

This doesn't mean I am taking anyone's side. I do not wish to put any gasoline on the fire by simply making my voice heard. I am a member of the OAC simply because I take interest in social networks, this one specifically devoted to anthropologists and which has, in my view, great potential. The network isn't perfect, as some have already stated. Flaws can be mended.

Emotions aside, my second and perhaps my rational choice, taking in the whole scope of the situation, would be 'The Anthropology Cooperative'.
@J. Fredriksson

My basis for not wanting to change the name at this point in time is stems from the principle of countering censorship, self-imposed or otherwise, in the absence of any identifiable reason legal or moral. There is an emotional component to this, of course, as I take intellectual freedom very seriously, but there is a rational component to it as well. Anthropology barely survived the past two decades of self-censorship and its future is not clear as yet.

The only wider political implications in this affair is whether we idiosyncratically censor ourselves from use of a generic descriptor applied multiple times to virtually every other discipline represented on the web. This is fine if the membership want to take this position, but there is no basis I can identify for this action other than to avoid unpleasantness. Of course to follow this up we would have to ban the use of the term in group names or discussion topics, as the same fracas will emerge if we do not.

In terms of ownership, Fortes owns the openanthropology.org domain name. openanthropology.com is owned by a porn and firearms trading agency in Panama, and I own openanthropology.net. There are over 100 other openanthropology domain names available for sale and eventual definition by their owners.

Fortes was not the first person to apply the open label to anthropological objects, we would have to go back at least a decade for that, to the origins of the new attributions of the term itself on the web. He has done a lot of work around his usage, but there is no unique or defining relationship between his project and the more general descriptor. Other usage is inevitable and will occur in future. The significance and scope of his project will rise and fall on its traction and impact, not on what it is called. And the same applies to ourselves, of course. We can no more impact his enterprise than he can impact ours given the considerable distance between our goals.
Philip Carl SALZMAN said:
There are of course other models of scientific, scholarly, and anthropological activity. Ralf Dahrendorf argued that the marketplace was the best model, with intellectual life a free and open marketplace of ideas, in which, as part of the unregulated flow (amorphous, to use one of Ryan's disapprobations), there is critical examination among competing ideas and arguments.
To me, Dahrendorf's vision is closer to what anthropology should be than is Ryan's.

In which case, perhaps the "Neoliberal Anthropology Cooperative" would fit the bill.
The results are in. Members voted 3 to 2 to keep the OAC name. See the results here.
I would guess that the results, clear though they may be, were less clear than they would have been had only the first question been voted on. I imagine that some voters were attracted to one of the alternative names offered, and voted the change on that account. Probably with the first question alone voted on, the total in favour of keeping the name would have been substantially higher. Even so, the results are decisive.

On another point, I suggest that, in future, requests for referenda require demonstrated support from membership. Minimally, that would be 2% of the membership in a petition, before being implemented. At the current level of membership, that would be 34 supporters. A higher number might seem preferable to some.

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