Have you noticed how our debates about the future of anthropology assume that the academic institutions in which anthropologists seek employment will continue to exist in something like their current form. Consider the following observations by marketing guru Seth Godin. What if he's right? What will we do?

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As I am reading Waters' little book again, I'd like to give some quotes, not really to build an argument, but to let some spectres floating around and haunting the present discussion (sorry again for the poor re-translation) :

"We have abandonned cultivated knowledge for its own sake in favor of demonstrations of identity"

And he adds, with less cynicism than outrage :

"Being educated now means coming in possession of certain goods, being given the keys of the tower where a whole professionnal elite has cloistered itself. So it should not be a suprise to see books being emptied of their content, in order to become signs of prestige."
I referred to books as dead objects to point out their dialectical interdependence with living people and their more mobile modes of communication and memory. As Waters via Igor made clear, this has been lost in the universities today. Yes, Nikos, I love my books too and have never knowingly got rid of one, despite the inconvenience of holding onto them as a nomad. I dream of leaving books of my own that have lasting value and that brings me closer to John's original premise than my contributions to this thread may superficially indicate. It is hard to keep hold of that dialectical logic when bouncing off ideas in a debating format.
I would say inviting people (whether or not they are senior scholars) to do something specific like being a working paper discussant or contributing to a wiki article should happen at the level of the initiative itself. People who start groups or wikis or seminar series should take responsibility for those initiatives and take them forward.

What I found when I ran the media anthropology e-seminars is that you've got to do a lot of regular work offline, behind the scenes, to invite or encourage people to participate. So you quietly email senior scholars and junior scholars and friends and colleagueas and acquaintances and anyone you can get hold of to get that joint activity (e.g. a seminar) off the ground. Also you avoid sending mass emails with general appeals as these are easier to ignore. The key thing is to build up the momentum at the early stages of the joint activity with a good mix of senior and junior people. Soft media are hard work.

John McCreery said:
Nice suggestion! Where would such requests originate? In groups? Also, Keith will know this, does Ning support the required gatekeeping function?

John Postill said:
In my past experience running the EASA media anthropology network mailing list what worked really well to draw in senior colleagues more actively was to invite them to do something quite specific within their area of expertise, typically act as discussants on a working paper prior to opening the e-seminar floor to the rest of list subscribers. This in turn encouraged other established scholars to join in the discussion.
John Postill has made a number of useful points that seem to be well grounded in experience and reality. His most recent point, that ephemera are not necessarily more spontaneous than material monuments, and require quite a lot of behind the scenes work, is well taken. Of course, any of us who have organized conferences, an archaic form of "social media" and the immediate exchange of ideas, will be aware of the truth in his observation.

Many founders of groups on OAC appear to believe that they will be self-generating. But in fact more than a few stagnate in empty stasis. Perhaps our OAC masters might wish to put up some guidelines to help those who have formed, or wish to form groups, as to what kind of input is likely to get discussion moving, and what initiatives rest in the first instance with the founder.
Hey John,

I think universities will become collaborative centers, rather than any institutionalized think tank (as they are seen today). Just as you and others have mentioned "open source" tearing down any kind hindrance to sharing information, I think universities will begin to utilize cross-academic and collaborative research with other universities, like thousands of nodes, working together to great some greater, dynamic educational and active force in the world. Research and openness are key, and the old rigid structures (Bureaucracies, competition between departments, hierarchical board of education, etc) will slowly fade as the years go on. This is just my prediction... though it's mostly based on studying the trends on what is becoming increasingly successful from a general point of view. New technology, ie, the internet is becoming increasingly efficient and advantageous for economic, social and increasingly cultural purposes. It's sort of seen as a vanguard for participation in society.... *Deep breath* Phew, at any rate...

I think my point comes down to this.... learning and information will always be important, but the line between academia and the rest of society will fade. I guess my general question to you and everyone here... will academia embrace the "open source" philosophy, allow hierarchy to fade and thus become major contributors to collaborations, instead of more institutionalized structures? Our century is quite a different one.
Jeremy, there is much in what you say. Question: Where do the jobs, salaries, and face-to-face communities come in?

Jeremy Johnson said:
Hey John,

I think universities will become collaborative centers, rather than any institutionalized think tank (as they are seen today). Just as you and others have mentioned "open source" tearing down any kind hindrance to sharing information, I think universities will begin to utilize cross-academic and collaborative research with other universities, like thousands of nodes, working together to great some greater, dynamic educational and active force in the world. Research and openness are key, and the old rigid structures (Bureaucracies, competition between departments, hierarchical board of education, etc) will slowly fade as the years go on. This is just my prediction... though it's mostly based on studying the trends on what is becoming increasingly successful from a general point of view. New technology, ie, the internet is becoming increasingly efficient and advantageous for economic, social and increasingly cultural purposes. It's sort of seen as a vanguard for participation in society.... *Deep breath* Phew, at any rate...

I think my point comes down to this.... learning and information will always be important, but the line between academia and the rest of society will fade. I guess my general question to you and everyone here... will academia embrace the "open source" philosophy, allow hierarchy to fade and thus become major contributors to collaborations, instead of more institutionalized structures? Our century is quite a different one.
If the digital trend continues, new virtual methods for legislation (such as the Creative Commons, paypal, and any online business really) will continue to be used, eventually becoming far more efficient than bloated, restrictive legislation (as Creative Commons argues). I think it's pretty safe to say that is the legislative direction we're headed. Virtual and/or digital. But as far as face-to-face communities... They'll always exist! But institutes might become "virtualized" as well, where there may be focal points or meet-up centers spread across the country, or world. This might be a long ways in the making, but in the end I'm betting they'll be far more adaptive at responding to student needs, and an equally effective teaching method. As technology gets better, wouldn't it be interesting to see how a "digital" university could work out? Professors could set up a node in their area, collaborate with professors across the world and create small student centers. This would require an overhaul of the type of legislation and authority (what could legitimize such a school?), but I think we're well on our way. The idea of a "micro-economy," where big corporations began to deflate as people can do more on their own (business from home, networked businesses selling products... such as Linux!), the cost and efficiency of a network-university might be come popular, with traditional universities looking like old castles standing against a backdrop of a vibrant information society.

This will also enable knowledge, or learning centers to be much more direct and abundant in society. It could be good for academia! But I guess the trend we might see more is virtual seminars, lectures, a much more interactive and dynamic system of learning. Hopefully more hands on/applying rather than sitting and retaining knowledge.

My professor told me these are all likely possibilities, but universities are the slowest to adapt to changes, as they are often reactionary to the job market. In other words, she thinks the society at large will have to change first, before schools do (economic shift and tech shift especially). Do you think that claim holds true?



John McCreery said:
Jeremy, there is much in what you say. Question: Where do the jobs, salaries, and face-to-face communities come in?
Jeremy Johnson said:
Hey John,

I think universities will become collaborative centers, rather than any institutionalized think tank (as they are seen today). Just as you and others have mentioned "open source" tearing down any kind hindrance to sharing information, I think universities will begin to utilize cross-academic and collaborative research with other universities, like thousands of nodes, working together to great some greater, dynamic educational and active force in the world. Research and openness are key, and the old rigid structures (Bureaucracies, competition between departments, hierarchical board of education, etc) will slowly fade as the years go on. This is just my prediction... though it's mostly based on studying the trends on what is becoming increasingly successful from a general point of view. New technology, ie, the internet is becoming increasingly efficient and advantageous for economic, social and increasingly cultural purposes. It's sort of seen as a vanguard for participation in society.... *Deep breath* Phew, at any rate... I think my point comes down to this.... learning and information will always be important, but the line between academia and the rest of society will fade. I guess my general question to you and everyone here... will academia embrace the "open source" philosophy, allow hierarchy to fade and thus become major contributors to collaborations, instead of more institutionalized structures? Our century is quite a different one.
These new communications technologies will allow us to do a lot of things that could not be done before, some of them useful. But I have my doubts that they will be able to cancel some stubborn facts of our lives. For example, everyone has to make a living. If you want to develop specialists to do research, they have to be supported, i.e. paid, and provided with a research infrastructure. All this is expensive and requires organization.

Organization requires decision-making, rules, allocation of resources, division of labour, and allocation of responsibilities. This pretty much requires a hierarchy of roles. This is even more true when people have the right and opportunity to be mobile, which I think we can all agree is a good thing, because the organization must be maintained while personnel moves through it and changes. Furthermore, selectivity is a major part: selecting among candidates for jobs, for example, or articles for publication. Remember, reputations are a major part of intellectual work, and good reputations can be maintained only if the work disseminated is of high quality.

One major aspect of universities is evaluation and certification. In a large society where people must deal with others who they do not know, credentials are important. Students are selected for admission, evaluated for the quality of the performance, and given degrees of various degrees of accomplishment. Staff are highly selected, as many more people want jobs than there are positions. As well, people want jobs in the most prestigious institutions, and compete for those.

While the new communications technologies will allow greater degrees of sharing and collaboration, it is doubtful that deinstitutionalization, the fall of hierarchies, free distribution of valuables, and universal equality are likely to result.


John McCreery said:
Jeremy, there is much in what you say. Question: Where do the jobs, salaries, and face-to-face communities come in?

Jeremy Johnson said:
Hey John,

I think universities will become collaborative centers, rather than any institutionalized think tank (as they are seen today). Just as you and others have mentioned "open source" tearing down any kind hindrance to sharing information, I think universities will begin to utilize cross-academic and collaborative research with other universities, like thousands of nodes, working together to great some greater, dynamic educational and active force in the world. Research and openness are key, and the old rigid structures (Bureaucracies, competition between departments, hierarchical board of education, etc) will slowly fade as the years go on. This is just my prediction... though it's mostly based on studying the trends on what is becoming increasingly successful from a general point of view. New technology, ie, the internet is becoming increasingly efficient and advantageous for economic, social and increasingly cultural purposes. It's sort of seen as a vanguard for participation in society.... *Deep breath* Phew, at any rate...

I think my point comes down to this.... learning and information will always be important, but the line between academia and the rest of society will fade. I guess my general question to you and everyone here... will academia embrace the "open source" philosophy, allow hierarchy to fade and thus become major contributors to collaborations, instead of more institutionalized structures? Our century is quite a different one.
Jeremy writes,

My professor told me these are all likely possibilities, but universities are the slowest to adapt to changes, as they are often reactionary to the job market. In other words, she thinks the society at large will have to change first, before schools do (economic shift and tech shift especially). Do you think that claim holds true?

I suspect that it does, though that may be pure prejudice. My thinking is influenced by Claude Levi-Strauss' description of French university students in Tristes Tropiques, in which the great French anthropologist contrasts the hearty athletes who are eager to graduate and get on with non-academic lives with the pale, monastic lot whose dearest dream is never to have to leave school. I recall, too, an SDS meeting in Ann Arbor, where, in the summer of 1968, I was attending the Summer Institute in Linguistics at the University of Michigan. The anti-Vietnam War movement was at its height. One speaker after another rose to call for revolution and bringing down the system. Then, one of leaders of the meeting asked, "Just for the record, how many of us would be here doing teaching and research if we didn't hate the thought of working in business or government?" He, I, and one other timidly raised our hands.

In my own case, I was fortunate to have parents who paid for college and fellowships and grants that paid for graduate school. My expulsion from the academy came with failure to get tenure (yes, I was young and clueless at a point when the academic market was contracting). Through an odd series of circumstances, including marrying a very smart woman, I wound up in Japan, enjoyed a moderately successful career in the Japanese advertising industry, and am currently co-owner, with my very smart wife, of a small but moderately successful translating and copywriting company. My position is, I believe, an entirely enviable one, that of an independent scholar who is truly independent. As the parent of only one already adult and extremely capable child and someone who has not owned an automobile and avoided the temptations of expensive sports like golf or skiing for forty years, I can fund my own research. Those I worry about are my friends and colleagues for whom, as John Postil has written so eloquently, the university is not only a real place but the place on which their livelihoods and self-esteem depend. Were I in their shoes, I would find the sorts of changes you describe terrifying. I would be reactionary, and, I suspect, they will be, too.
What you've described is basically our current state of affairs. I'm basically claiming that the hierarchical organization that our society currently requires will change, albeit slowly over this century, so that yes, even institutions will become decentralized. I'm basically arguing that, in the long run, institutions will be a trumped by more cooperative forms of engagement. While this seems somewhat unrealistic in the short term, and even in the upcoming years, the internet is itself a wonderful example (though a very young one) of how new technology is rapidly evolving the efficiency of decentralization. What I am arguing is that, of course there are facts of life! And the way we manage money, time, certification and organization will face a major overhaul in this century, so that newer, and better forms of organization will emerge, making bureaucracies as they exist today become dated and inefficient. It's a leap of the imagination, maybe, but if you study the trends, the future is painted very differently. It all comes down to the inherent structures of the way we organize and manage society will become more complex, and decentralized modes of organization will be efficient structure to adapt to that complexity.

Bureaucracies were constructed because, yes, in a larger society you need a way to organize, certify and legitimize, let alone get anything done. The controversial component of discussion in this topic is that, eventually, societies become so large and complex that bureaucracies buckle under the stress and people need to adapt new means of organizing. We're very used to hierarchies being the only way to get things done in groups, and that fundamental method is changing. Just watch the trends: virtualization, collaborative organizations, etc. More and more things that were originally only capable through large bureaucracies are slowly shifting over to collaborative networks. But be patient, the internet is still in its infancy!

Philip Carl SALZMAN said:
These new communications technologies will allow us to do a lot of things that could not be done before, some of them useful. But I have my doubts that they will be able to cancel some stubborn facts of our lives. For example, everyone has to make a living. If you want to develop specialists to do research, they have to be supported, i.e. paid, and provided with a research infrastructure. All this is expensive and requires organization.
Organization requires decision-making, rules, allocation of resources, division of labour, and allocation of responsibilities. This pretty much requires a hierarchy of roles. This is even more true when people have the right and opportunity to be mobile, which I think we can all agree is a good thing, because the organization must be maintained while personnel moves through it and changes. Furthermore, selectivity is a major part: selecting among candidates for job, for example, or articles for publication. Remember, reputations are a major part of intellectual work, and good reputations can be maintained only if the work disseminated is of high quality.
One major aspect of universities is evaluation and certification. In a large society where people must deal with others who they do not know, credentials are important. Students are selected for admission, evaluated for the quality of the performance, and given degrees of various degrees of accomplishment. Staff are highly selected, as many more people want jobs than there are positions. As well, people want jobs in the most prestigious institutions, and compete for those.

While the new communications technologies will allow greater degrees of sharing and collaboration, it is doubtful that deinstitutionalization, the fall of hierarchies, free distribution of valuables, and universal equality are likely to result.


John McCreery said:
Jeremy, there is much in what you say. Question: Where do the jobs, salaries, and face-to-face communities come in?

Jeremy Johnson said:
Hey John,

I think universities will become collaborative centers, rather than any institutionalized think tank (as they are seen today). Just as you and others have mentioned "open source" tearing down any kind hindrance to sharing information, I think universities will begin to utilize cross-academic and collaborative research with other universities, like thousands of nodes, working together to great some greater, dynamic educational and active force in the world. Research and openness are key, and the old rigid structures (Bureaucracies, competition between departments, hierarchical board of education, etc) will slowly fade as the years go on. This is just my prediction... though it's mostly based on studying the trends on what is becoming increasingly successful from a general point of view. New technology, ie, the internet is becoming increasingly efficient and advantageous for economic, social and increasingly cultural purposes. It's sort of seen as a vanguard for participation in society.... *Deep breath* Phew, at any rate...

I think my point comes down to this.... learning and information will always be important, but the line between academia and the rest of society will fade. I guess my general question to you and everyone here... will academia embrace the "open source" philosophy, allow hierarchy to fade and thus become major contributors to collaborations, instead of more institutionalized structures? Our century is quite a different one.
Hey John,

As someone who is headed for academia myself, I find the state of affairs to be intriguing and challenging. Definitely can sympathize though, it all seems so uncertain. It's my hope that if these trends are correct, there will be an even greater future for academics... Not as separated in a sort of "monastic" life but as actively engaged in society, perhaps more than ever. This is at least my hope, but I am already, as it might be obvious, getting strong negative reactions to such claims. The truth may never be popular!

-Jer

John McCreery said:
Jeremy writes,

My professor told me these are all likely possibilities, but universities are the slowest to adapt to changes, as they are often reactionary to the job market. In other words, she thinks the society at large will have to change first, before schools do (economic shift and tech shift especially). Do you think that claim holds true?

I suspect that it does, though that may be pure prejudice. My thinking is influenced by Claude Levi-Strauss' description of French university students in Tristes Tropiques, in which the great French anthropologist contrasts the hearty athletes who are eager to graduate and get on with non-academic lives with the pale, monastic lot whose dearest dream is never to have to leave school. I recall, too, an SDS meeting in Ann Arbor, where, in the summer of 1968, I was attending the Summer Institute in Linguistics at the University of Michigan. The anti-Vietnam War movement was at its height. One speaker after another rose to call for revolution and bringing down the system. Then, one of leaders of the meeting asked, "Just for the record, how many of us would be here doing teaching and research if we didn't hate the thought of working in business or government?" He, I, and one other timidly raised our hands.

In my own case, I was fortunate to have parents who paid for college and fellowships and grants that paid for graduate school. My expulsion from the academy came with failure to get tenure (yes, I was young and clueless at a point when the academic market was contracting). Through an odd series of circumstances, including marrying a very smart woman, I wound up in Japan, enjoyed a moderately successful career in the Japanese advertising industry, and am currently co-owner, with my very smart wife, of a small but moderately successful translating and copywriting company. My position is, I believe, an entirely enviable one, that of an independent scholar who is truly independent. As the parent of only one already adult and extremely capable child and someone who has not owned an automobile and avoided the temptations of expensive sports like golf or skiing for forty years, I can fund my own research. Those I worry about are my friends and colleagues for whom, as John Postil has written so eloquently, the university is not only a real place but the place on which their livelihoods and self-esteem depend. Were I in their shoes, I would find the sorts of changes you describe terrifying. I would be reactionary, and, I suspect, they will be, too.
Jeremy writes,

As someone who is headed for academia myself, I find the state of affairs to be intriguing and challenging.

Good on you, as our Aussie friends would say. I can't imagine a better attitude. P.S. You might enjoy a look at the Material Worlds site, for example. Or the truly phenomenal stuff being done by Michael Welsch.

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