I'm very excited to be part of this network dedicated to the future of anthropology. But what is open anthropology?

Or to put it in other words: what does/can the open anthropology community do for each of us? Or again in other words: which actions or behavior could be typical for the open anthropology community?

If anthropology itself is concerned with bringing about a more equal and democratic society than ever existed, then what is open anthropology? Is it simply a collaborative approach to this concern or is it more than that?

Can open anthropology give us access to outcomes that are otherwise not accessible? Is meaning of open not related to the concern of anthropology itself?

So many questions, what's your take?

Steven

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Hey Jeremy,

Very well put!

Thanks

Steven
'Open' means, in my construction, not closed - at the very least. No limits, no secret handshakes, no language designed to exclude the non-professional. Anthropology used to be exciting and new a hundred years ago but since then the professionals have moved in and closed it down.

I am, in my way, a professional and I don't mind playing the game (though it would sometimes be nice to understand what peer reviewers are actually trying to say) but that game is only good for those who look inwards. Let's look outwards sometimes.

All the best,

Charles
Hey Charles,

I'm honestly moved by the fact that so many anthropologists have gathered here to at least check out what the opportunities are.

I'm not a professional but I love anthropology. I love the idea of anthropology, I love it's history and I love comtemplating with all of you about it's future. Getting this chance given by professionals like you is an very valuable gift indeed.

Thanks

Steven
Hey Stacie,

This is fact becoming one of the most exciting discussions I have ever had on any forum.

Thanks for quoting my own quote from the memory bank forum. I'm actually planning to upload my own story asap and I hope others will follow.

What strikes me is that anthropologists tend to remove themselves from our own societies and embed themselves in remote societies in order to study humanity. At this point here we stand, forming an online community we might some day deeply care about and we aren't even sure how to get started.

In other words, we seem to have lost touch with the community building skills humanity once depended up for it's survival. How could such a thing ever have happened, and what can we learn from this observation?

Anyways, I'm looking forward to being part of this experiment!

Steven
I think you nailed it, from a student's perspective. For myself, I do not wish to belong to another exclusively student oriented organization. I want to swim where the big fish swim. I want to observe the behavior, listen to the wisdom and learn from the silver-backs as John puts it. I need continuity in study effort, even if I have to find it myself. Otherwise as a student, I get distracted by all the shiny courses like Art for Elementary Education, for example. What a class that was!

Stacie Gilmore said:
I especially liked the following idea on The Memory Bank's forum:

"An open anthropology would be self-promoting, and do much more to get the word out about what anthropologists are doing than anything the AAA has ever done." - Kerim

As a student of anthropology still familiarizing myself with the field, I would like to have a central place online to learn about ongoing research and network with others interested in anthropology. [ snip ]

This is where storytelling comes in; that is telling our own stories to each other. If we're truly not an institution, and if we're really a community, we will first have to get to know each other and connect to each other emotionally. Anthropologists know this better than anybody else. The best way to do this of course is to meet each other in real life, spend some time together and get to know each other. The second best alternative is to share our stories with each other online, and circumstances will prove that this is probably something we have to specialize in. Apart from being an online community of anthropologists this is also a giant experiment in studying ourselves and each other in community building and growing." - devijers

Thoughts?
Thanks for re-opening this thread, Victoria. It captures so vividly the freedom and optimism that marked the beginning of the OAC. Now there are several places in this network (including two discussion groups) for discussing the term "open anthropology" in ways that often reflect what Weber called "the routinization of charisma", the transformation of energizing spirit into a pattern of organization and the turf wars that inevitably arise from that. But this Forum is the best place to have that conversation and we rely on new members like you to inject once more the initial enthusiasm which inspired the ad hoc group that got the OAC going. Above all, we must ensure that newcomers are not intimidated by what seems like a settled exchange between a few regulars who are open only to each other.

I can't do better than endorse Jeremy's impassioned declaration of May 28th above. As so often here, I find myself mulling over some question and suddenly find that someone has already expressed it so much more efectively than I could. I look forward to meeting you here again and in other OAC locations.
Deniz,

Open anthropology is a commitment to be inclusive, where possible, rather than unnecessarily exclusive or closed. The term has no 'exact' meaning, since its operationalization is always contingent and usually political. For example, when you write up fieldwork, you have to decide how much you can safely reveal about your informants. The principle should be that the ethnographer would not knowingly cause harm to anyone else as a result of what s/he publishes.

You have brought up a particularly sensitive matter, the relationship between an anthropologist and their fieldnotes. There is a tradition of secrecy here that is professionally dubious. Many people take their notes to the grave without ever making them public. This hardly meets modern standards of accountability. Elsewhere on the OAC you can read how Owen Wiltshire experimented with a blog as a means of engaging people in his field site more publicly and in less of a one-way relationship. So this too is a question of judgment. People vary in this respect, but an open anthropology would ask you to be explicit about your reasons for keeping things from the rest of your profession and the public. There is much room for debate here, but debate is one way of keeping the issue open.

deniz batum said:
I would like to ask what does open anthropology entail exactly? I am doing an ethnographic study and would be very careful about sharing my results "openly".
kind regards deniz
Keith said, "The principle should be that the ethnographer would not knowingly cause harm to anyone else as a result of what s/he publishes."

Of course, you are right, Keith; this is a standard ethical pronouncement for anthropologists. But many of us are "critical," "committed," or "engaged" anthropologists, speaking out on behalf of the oppressed and the "subalterns," whether of caste, class, gender, age, ethnicity, religion, or sexual orientation. Thus there might be a "commitment" in favour of, as Steve (above) originally put it, "anthropology ... concerned with bringing about a more equal and democratic society than ever existed."

Part of such analyses are, of course, the villains: upper caste members who abuse "untouchables"; men who control and abuse women; employers of children; capitalists oppressing workers; Israelis oppressing Palestinians; heterocentrics engaging in homophobia; etc. etc. All of these are meant to be harmed by the anthropologists' analyses: the game is name and shame, discredit, and condemn. In short, do all harm possible to those of whom one does not approve.

So for many anthropologists, the principle is, "do no harm to those of whom one approves; do maximum harm to those of whom one disapproves."
Defining "harm" in this context would be very helpful. Let me try to construct an example:

An anthropologist is studying a community of recent immigrants (both legal and otherwise) in a U.S. city. If study determines that the immigrant community is being treated unfairly by the local government and even determines that laws have been broken by the municipal officials, then certainly these "villains" may be called out by the critique, and an engaged anthropologist may hope that shining a light on the situation will spur change.

If I follow what I think Philip is saying, one could interpret that the local authorities (the "villains") are not only harmed by the anthropologist's publication, but in fact it is the anthropologist's explicit goal to "harm" them.

In my mind, the anthropologist's analysis is intended to bring about justice. Certainly this may undermine the behaviors and goals of the villains, but I do not believe that means they have been harmed.

Alternatively, if the anthropologist were to release personal information about specific individuals in the local government and attack them personally, then I could conclude that they were being harmed.

I just wanted to provide one person's perspective. It is issues like this that sure make it easier being an archaeologist!



Philip Carl SALZMAN said:
Keith said, "The principle should be that the ethnographer would not knowingly cause harm to anyone else as a result of what s/he publishes."

Of course, you are right, Keith; this is a standard ethical pronouncement for anthropologists. But many of us are "critical," "committed," or "engaged" anthropologists, speaking out on behalf of the oppressed and the "subalterns," whether of caste, class, gender, age, ethnicity, religion, or sexual orientation. Thus there might be a "commitment" in favour of, as Steve (above) originally put it, "anthropology ... concerned with bringing about a more equal and democratic society than ever existed."

Part of such analyses are, of course, the villains: upper caste members who abuse "untouchables"; men who control and abuse women; employers of children; capitalists oppressing workers; Israelis oppressing Palestinians; heterocentrics engaging in homophobia; etc. etc. All of these are meant to be harmed by the anthropologists' analyses: the game is name and shame, discredit, and condemn. In short, do all harm possible to those of whom one does not approve.

So for many anthropologists, the principle is, "do no harm to those of whom one approves; do maximum harm to those of whom one disapproves."
Paul says, "this may undermine the behaviors and goals of the [informants], but I do not believe that means they have been harmed." [term in brackets inserted by PCS]

Let's try some examples: "This may undermine the behaviors and goals of the Muslims, but I do not believe that means they have been harmed." "This may undermine the behaviors and goals of the workers, but I do not believe that means they have been harmed." "This may undermine the behaviors and goals of the women, but I do not believe that means they have been harmed." Can we really deny that "undermin[ing informants'] behaviors and goals" "harms them"? How can this not count as "harm"?

Are you suggesting that if we say the magic word, "justice," then the harm we do is not harm? Didn't someone say that you can't make an omelet without breaking eggs? And that change comes out the barrel of an anthropologist's printer? Really, what many anthropologists want is credit for harming the right people.

As you know, these days there are plenty of folks in Iran saying that "justice" is following God's way and crushing the enemies of God, i.e. voters, protesters, prisoners. Have these suffered "harm"? How about the kulaks who stood in the way of Soviet proletarian justice, and were slaughtered in the tens and hundreds of thousands. Were they "harmed"?

Folks who believe that anthropology is a form of social activism want credit for "justice," "equality," "progressive change," but do not wish to take responsibility for the human cost of that change or the various ways that such change can go wrong and result in untold damage and countless atrocities.
Sure, Carole, I can provide lots of cases. How much time do you have? As you know, Nancy Scheper-Hughes' Saints, Scholars, and Schizophrenics, one of the most celebrated books in modern anthropology, was devastating to her informants, who felt very named and blamed. Irish scholars, researchers, and doctors felt no less that Ireland had been demeaned, and were not all that keen on the research methods either. This is not the only ethnography of Ireland that informants felt betrayed them.

Thomas Belmonte's The Broken Fountain is largely an apology for the inability of ethnographic research to grasp anything that could be called a fact. Belmonte confesses that he failed at finding out the most basic information about the people in the building where he lived. It was all just a great buzzing, booming confusion. And yet, and yet, in the final chapter he feels able to invoke and off-the-shelf marxist denunciation of Neapolitan industry and business and "class oppression."

You may recall that during the 1970s North American anthropologists were the last people in the world to be true believers in marxism, at a time when everyone in Eastern Europe knew what an inhuman catastrophe it is. So anthropology became a font of socialist rejection of capitalism, teaching our uncritical students the evils of business and industry, as we rake in our salaries and grants provided by those very sources, in a society that has enjoyed levels of prosperity unimagined by kings a few centuries ago. Denouncing businessmen and indistrialists: you bet: shaming and naming.

Another classic example, a winner of major award, is Phillippe Bourgeois' In Search of Respect: Selling Crack in El Barrio, in which the author favours us with a condemnation of white America, capitalism, and American culture, on behalf of folks who voluntarily immigrated to the U.S. for the benefits it offered. And, of course, problems are always the fault of "the system," and no individual reponsibility is considered. This is undermining, naming and shaming, of the first order.

Postcolonial anthropology, even when it is not a specifically partisan ethnic project such as Said's, is precisely about naming and blaming, generally Westerners get blamed for anything wrong in the rest of the world. Western empires were evil, although past Roman, Arab, Ottoman, Mongol, Zulu and others were benign (tough break Christians, Jews, and Berbers), as is the contemporary Chinese (tough break Mongols, Uigars, Tibetans). So we teach our students that our society is bad and everyone else is good.

A prominent example of postcolonial anthropology is Facts on the Ground: Archaeological Practice and Territorial Self-Fashioning in Israeli Society by Nadia Abu El-Haj, a debunking of Israeli archaeology by a non-archaeologist, whose main objective apparently is to discredit any Jewish historical claims to the holy land. Why the Jews are just making it up! I am sure she does not want to harm anyone, other than destroying Israel. Hey, but that is an objective widely shared by postcolonial anthropologists. Well, even if a few are harmed, everyone else would be better off, wouldn't they?

Carole, you say you like anthropology "alive and kicking." But getting kicked is not so much fun, and can be very harmful.


Carole McGranahan said:
Philip, I have to respectfully say I couldn't disagree with you more. Are you talking about a specific individual? If not, then this is a rather stark blanket condemnation of much of contemporary cultural anthropology. I consider myself a critical, committed, engaged, feminist, poststructural, postcolonial anthropologist and can unequivocally state that my work is not about naming and shaming, discrediting and condemning or doing harm to those of whom I don't approve (to use your words from above). I can certainly understand someone's preference for different theoretical approaches or styles of scholarship, but don't at all see your critique above reflected in the literature as I read, practice, and teach it. Instead, I see much promise in my current students and excellent work being done in the field in general; I like that cultural anthropology is not just alive, but alive and kicking in the present.

Perhaps what is also at issue here is an interpretation of harm. For me, engaged critique is not harm, but an important part of ethnographic thinking.
Carol, here is another good one I forgot to mention. An Israeli anthropology student did field research in the Israeli army. Her conclusion: Israeli soldiers are racists. The evidence: Israeli soldiers do not rape Palestinian women! This thesis received the prize for the best thesis of the year! Leaving aside the ridiculous argument and "evidence," you don't think calling all Israeli soldiers racists is "naming and shaming"? Yup, this is anthropology "alive and kicking" alright.

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