Summing up our open discussion of the situation in late 2010, Fran Barone wrote:

The OAC is the Open Anthropology Cooperative. I see some anthropology, and its relatively open (hell, I've found a place here, haven't I?), but the 'cooperative' seems to be missing more often than not-- mostly I suggest because the object of cooperation is not really set out. What are we cooperating on doing? ... I think when people see that the OAC is not just a spinning wheel, but a spinning wheel that goes places, participation will climb.

This is one of the most constructive points to continue the present conversation into the long term. What are we cooperating on here? The OAC is great for the freedom that it affords members to explore and pick and choose how and when to contribute. But part of our intention here has always been to bring together a pool of like-minded and committed individuals willing to share, critique, and collaborate to achieve productive ends. We are strong on ideas, but putting them into action towards common goals can be a drawn out process, torn between total openness and democracy and a lack of clear commitment, investment or intent.

So what would everyone like to see us collaborate to achieve? What does the Coooperative mean to you? Where would you like to see this spinning wheel go and how best to keep it spinning for everyone?

The floor is open.

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Just a minor point of clarification. I wrote the first paragraph, "The OAC is the...", and was quoted by Francine Barone. I do want to thank Francine and Keith for taking this issue up; I thought it an important one to raise, with the caveat that I do not want to downplay the achievements of our members so far, or of the success of projects like the Working Paper and Seminar series. Neither am I suggesting that all or even most items of collaboration come top-down from administrators. The nice thing is that anyone can set up a group and try to organize something. At the same time I think it is a good idea we consider three questions here:

1. What can we do to sustain the OAC projects we've already initiated?

1aProjects take time and effort and if participation is low then organizers are less likely to continue working on them. Part of what is required then is to encourage participation in the projects we already have going. One way that we might encourage participation is by advertising those projects outside of the OAC, for example, by making announcements on listserves. I think that this might be best accomplished if the responsibility were assigned to someone here, rather than relying solely on ad hoc announcements. Also, organizers may be a little shy about tooting their own horns too much.

1bIt is not always clear how one can join an existing project, or take on more responsibility. It might be a good idea to spend more time in outreach. For example, the seminar and working paper series might make (more visible?) periodic announcements calling for papers and such, detailing submission guidelines.

2. How do we foster the development of new projects by OAC's general membership?
Ideally new projects should be developed from the bottom up. How do we encourage members to begin such projects, and what can be done to keep them active? Initiatives can be and are started off-OAC, so what can we do to make on-site initiatives inviting? Is the Ning platform capable of this? For example, I moved my main blog off-OAC because it's blogging platform is really primitive. It does not do keywords well, does not do trackbacks, does not support LaTeX equations (admittedly that is mostly important to the few mathematical anthropologists out there) etc., and also because I did not feel I had adequate control/ownership of the content I had produced (export, backup, etc.).


3.What new projects might like to set up for public collaboration in the near future?
With due consideration of our other obligations of course, but nothing succeeds like success. Any ideas?
Hi, Keith. I could only think what C should not be-- CONVENTION(AL).


Jacob Lee said:
Just a minor point of clarification. I wrote the first paragraph, "The OAC is the...", and was quoted by Francine Barone.

Sorry about that, Jason. It comes in part from using the email version of Fran's post which misses most of the formatting. I am glad to acknowledge you as the source. This is not mere pedantry. Before the academy was taken over by the passion to measure individual contributions, informal sharing within our community was sustained by a norm of attribution, not just to give credit where it is due, but to allow others to follow the sources for our arguments. I believe that, although we do not intend to be an online university, we can still gain from respecting some of the traditions of scholarship.

I would also make the other side of this point: that implicit acceptance of the norms that currently govern the academy is one of the main obstacles in the way of developing the capacity for cooperation. The unseen influence of the universities, for good and bad, is what we must confront and use, if we are to make progress here.
Well, I wouldn't want Francine to be blamed for something I had said, at the very least.


Sorry about that, Jason. It comes in part from using the email version of Fran's post which misses most of the formatting. I am glad to acknowledge you as the source. This is not mere pedantry. Before the academy was taken over by the passion to measure individual contributions, informal sharing within our community was sustained by a norm of attribution, not just to give credit where it is due, but to allow others to follow the sources for our arguments. I believe that, although we do not intend to be an online university, we can still gain from respecting some of the traditions of scholarship.
I have, as I recall, been involved with three cooperatives before OAC. The first was Howland House, a residential cooperative in which I lived for three years while attending Michigan State. The other two were food co-ops, one that my wife helped start in Middlebury, VT, the other in New Haven, CT.

To join the residential cooperative, I purchased a share in the co-op and signed a contract under which I was obliged to contribute four hours of labor a week to running the place. Thanks to my mother, I knew how to cook and wound up as Tuesday night cook for all three years that I lived there. When I graduated, I was required to sell my share back to the co-op.

The Middlebury food co-op was just starting out. Members jointly ordered food in bulk and parceled it out among themselves, each member paying the wholesale price for what they took. When we visited Middlebury last year, we discovered that the co-op had become a thriving small grocery, whose layout and offerings resembled on a smaller scale the commercially owned Whole Foods Supermarket where we bought our groceries. The system was now like the one at the New Haven co-op, which we joined at a later stage of development, in which the members pay an annual fee and operations are handled by employees instead of the members themselves.

All of these examples conform to the following definitions found on Wikipedia.

Cooperatives are defined by the International Co-operative Alliance's Statement on the Co-operative Identity as autonomous associations of persons united voluntarily to meet their common economic, social, and cultural needs and aspirations through jointly owned and democratically controlled enterprises. A cooperative may also be defined as a business owned and controlled equally by the people who use its services or by the people who work there.

OAC is not, of course, a business. There may, nonetheless, be a useful hint to be found in these examples. In all three cases, members are distinguished from non-members by tangible commitments of labor, cash or both.

When I ask myself how I benefit from OAC, I immediately think of networking: networking that provides access to people, ideas and information. But in this respect, I observe, OAC is no different from a listserv or forum. OAC makes no stronger demands of its members than these other, commonplace, types of Internet-based services. There is, thus, no particular benefit to membership that makes it more worthwhile to participate in OAC than, say, Anthro-L or Savage Minds, and there is no downside cost for failing to participate.

Could this situation be changed? Yes. But the price would be a change in our current totally open and egalitarian ethos. Instead of one, perfectly flat community with totally porous borders, we would shift to concentric circles. The outer circle would remain totally open and egalitarian, imposing no obligations on associate members free to come and go as they please. Joining the inner circle would require the approval of the full members and be conditional on a track record of contributions in the outer circle [details remain to be worked out]. The benefits of inner circle membership would include access to seminars and OAC Press working papers and, perhaps, what I am going to call work rooms [more about that in a minute]. An innermost circle would comprise the administrators, who would typically be recruited from the inner circle.

The Work Room: A space where an individual or project team posts a running record of a current research project, with links to resources that would remain wherever the individual or team members choose to keep them. Projects under way in Work Rooms will be listed on the front page, but access to them will be restricted to those allowed by the individual or team that occupies the room.

In my mind's eye, I envision a newcomer who stumbles across OAC and sees on the front page the listings of seminars and work room projects that look interesting. But the only way to gain access to these privileged areas of the site is to participate actively in the outer circle and secure an invitation to join the inner circle. I submit that this is a proven device, successfully employed by secret societies and political parties the world over. The promise of becoming an insider is a powerful incentive to greater participation.
John,

I'm certainly intrigued by your observations and proposals. The idea that full members would need to commit to a minimum level of time/labor in order to reap benefits makes a great deal of sense, and is certainly in line with the way I have always understood a cooperative to function.

Work rooms sound similar to what I originally expected might arise from the Groups, with collaborative teams using the Wiki as a repository for for all the information needed to move a research project forward.

I've been kicking around the idea of starting some discussions in the Southwestern Archaeology group that might lead to greater sharing, and possibly some collaborative work using existing site reports and data sets. The sad truth is that the few archaeologists who joined the OAC in the early days seem to have moved on. Archaeology may be one of the Four Fields, but it is severely underrepresented here.


Paul Wren said:
John,

I Archaeology may be one of the Four Fields, but it is severely underrepresented here.

True enough. And computer scientists apparently are grossly over-represented! Considering both our backgrounds.
Jacob Lee said:
3.What new projects might like to set up for public collaboration in the near future?
With due consideration of our other obligations of course, but nothing succeeds like success. Any ideas?

There are many kinds of projects we could organize here at the OAC, and not all necessarily have to be carried out on the site itself. For example, we could organize conferences (on or offline), or compile and share bibliographies and syllabuses on different topics (not a bad idea for a Groups activity). In the past, there's even been discussion of how to use the OAC to help improve the anthropological entries in Citizendium and Wikipedia.
Paul, thanks for the interest in the suggestions. The heart of the matter to me is that we can talk all we want about doing this or that in the best of all possible worlds and try all sorts of technological gimmicks; but unless we find ways to get what people in the ad industry call the key drivers right, none of its going to work any better than what we have now. I can imagine all sorts of people coming to OAC for all sorts of reasons. Some are just curious about what's happening. Some are content to meet new people with whom they can continue familiar debates. Some may be freeloading, lurking and hoping to discover something that they can use for some other purpose. Some want help in getting some serious work done, like Keith, who wants anthropology to change the world, you who want to pursue issues specific to Southwestern Archeology, or me, who'd like to see what we'd better understand if cultural anthropologists combined sound scholarship with exploiting new technology—got to be, come to think of it, more like archeologists, who have always been forced by fragmentary data to carefully examine every shard and ready to use other science to date and explore the context. The critical fact here is that it's awfully hard to get anything serious done if you are constantly being side-tracked into the usual free-for-alls that groups and forums tend to become.

Suppose I put it this way: Serious work may grow out of idle curiosity but has to be isolated from it. But isolation should never be so complete that others cannot find their way to the serious work if they want to be involved in it. That is why all serious organizations have gatekeepers. Since we spent our summer in Cambridge, MA, I think of Harvard. There are tourists all over the yard, but to use Widener library, we had to get library cards. And even with library cards, we couldn't get into the private studies reserved for the faculty.

What I'm proposing is fundamentally a Harvard-like system. Tourists are free to wander around the outer circle; we might even want to lay on the equivalent of Hahvahd Tours to show them around the place. The more serious types get a pass to participate in the seminars. Some, who are ready to invite selected others to participate on a longer-term basis in ongoing research, will set up work rooms, with links to data, references, journals, whatever seems useful.

How does that sound?


This, anyway, is some of the thinking behind the outer and inner circles and the Work Rooms proposal.



Paul Wren said:
John,

I'm certainly intrigued by your observations and proposals. The idea that full members would need to commit to a minimum level of time/labor in order to reap benefits makes a great deal of sense, and is certainly in line with the way I have always understood a cooperative to function.

Work rooms sound similar to what I originally expected might arise from the Groups, with collaborative teams using the Wiki as a repository for for all the information needed to move a research project forward.

I've been kicking around the idea of starting some discussions in the Southwestern Archaeology group that might lead to greater sharing, and possibly some collaborative work using existing site reports and data sets. The sad truth is that the few archaeologists who joined the OAC in the early days seem to have moved on. Archaeology may be one of the Four Fields, but it is severely underrepresented here.
John points to a possible tension between openness and certain forms of cooperation and suggests that we shift away from the present open and egalitarian model to a hierarchical model of concentric circles in which the obligations and benefits of membership increase as one goes up and inward. I appreciate that certain forms of collaboration are not best conducted in an open room where anyone can redirect workflow in a new and probably unproductive direction.

That said, the suggestion somewhat evokes in me the image of Minas Tirith with its seven concentric walls, and pass-worded gates, and at its center the dead White Tree of Gondor and tombs of kings. All kidding aside, I think that the metaphor ought to be modified somewhat to make clear that what is being suggested is not a pyramidal hierarchy (a single rooted tree), but a heterarchical system of concentric circles:


The important difference is that there is not a single core membership that determines what others can or cannot do at the OAC as a whole, so much as a distributed system of control by which certain areas of the OAC fall under the domain of different admins. Owners of work-rooms, organized seminars etc. have the right to set up access limits, etc., but the ability of general members to set new ones up themselves is best left completely open.

In any case, can Ning support such a model?


John McCreery said:
Could this situation be changed? Yes. But the price would be a change in our current totally open and egalitarian ethos. Instead of one, perfectly flat community with totally porous borders, we would shift to concentric circles. The outer circle would remain totally open and egalitarian, imposing no obligations on associate members free to come and go as they please. Joining the inner circle would require the approval of the full members and be conditional on a track record of contributions in the outer circle [details remain to be worked out]. The benefits of inner circle membership would include access to seminars and OAC Press working papers and, perhaps, what I am going to call work rooms [more about that in a minute]. An innermost circle would comprise the administrators, who would typically be recruited from the inner circle.

The Work Room: A space where an individual or project team posts a running record of a current research project, with links to resources that would remain wherever the individual or team members choose to keep them. Projects under way in Work Rooms will be listed on the front page, but access to them will be restricted to those allowed by the individual or team that occupies the room.
Keith, my suggestion:

I once lived in a co-op near UCLA. I liked how each "co-oper' was given a chance by everyone to contribute and develop his/her interest and potential. I think we can replicate the same idea here at the OAC. In organizational sustainability, in order for members to contribute and participate with gusto, the organization has to reward them or give them incentives. That's just the reality in a successful organization.

Maybe some OAC members are interested to get published as they are building their professional resumes. The OAC can sponsor a monthly themed anthropological writing contest. At the end of the year, twelve winning pieces will be compiled and published by the OAC. Entries should be submitted to the administration and posted anonymously on the forum. Members can then discuss and debate before voting at the end of a month.

A ten-page paper with double space and eleven-point font, I think, is reasonable. The OAC should try to make the themes varied. For instance, first month will be about biological anthropology, and the next, visual anthropology. The twelve themes to be used should be somewhat related, so the publication later will have coherence. For example, this year the general theme will be about terrorism or economics.

If the monthly theme is about biological anthropology, entries should be about terrorism and issues/ideas/concepts in biological anthropology. If it is visual anthropology, again entries should be about terrorism, maybe how it is depicted in the media or amplified through film and photography.

Maybe adding competition and anonymity on this forum will foster wider participation and healthy discussion. Besides, writers will be rewarded through the OAC's recognition of their papers. The discussion or debate can also help the authors get more ideas if they decide to turn their ten-page papers into books in the future. Now, that is cooperative.
I like it.



Jacob Lee said:
John points to a possible tension between openness and certain forms of cooperation and suggests that we shift away from the present open and egalitarian model to a hierarchical model of concentric circles in which the obligations and benefits of membership increase as one goes up and inward. I appreciate that certain forms of collaboration are not best conducted in an open room where anyone can redirect workflow in a new and probably unproductive direction.

That said, the suggestion somewhat evokes in me the image of Minas Tirith with its seven concentric walls, and pass-worded gates, and at its center the dead White Tree of Gondor and tombs of kings. All kidding aside, I think that the metaphor ought to be modified somewhat to make clear that what is being suggested is not a pyramidal hierarchy (a single rooted tree), but a heterarchical system of concentric circles:


The important difference is that there is not a single core membership that determines what others can or cannot do at the OAC as a whole, so much as a distributed system of control by which certain areas of the OAC fall under the domain of different admins. Owners of work-rooms, organized seminars etc. have the right to set up access limits, etc., but the ability of general members to set new ones up themselves is best left completely open.

In any case, can Ning support such a model?


John McCreery said:
Could this situation be changed? Yes. But the price would be a change in our current totally open and egalitarian ethos. Instead of one, perfectly flat community with totally porous borders, we would shift to concentric circles. The outer circle would remain totally open and egalitarian, imposing no obligations on associate members free to come and go as they please. Joining the inner circle would require the approval of the full members and be conditional on a track record of contributions in the outer circle [details remain to be worked out]. The benefits of inner circle membership would include access to seminars and OAC Press working papers and, perhaps, what I am going to call work rooms [more about that in a minute]. An innermost circle would comprise the administrators, who would typically be recruited from the inner circle.

The Work Room: A space where an individual or project team posts a running record of a current research project, with links to resources that would remain wherever the individual or team members choose to keep them. Projects under way in Work Rooms will be listed on the front page, but access to them will be restricted to those allowed by the individual or team that occupies the room.

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