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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Jeremy said: "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."

This has been a dream through the 19th and 20th centuries. Remember Marx's idea that the state would fade away? It did not exactly happen in the USSR, China, North Korea, or any of the progressive, people's utopias. So far you have offered no evidence of such a development, other than the existence of the internet, a phenomenon much owing to state bureaucracies, including military bureaucracies. Prognosticating and prohesizing is a tricky business at best, and the future is always a mystery. But one must at least have some kind of credible argument.
Even when institutions are replaced by other forms of organization, this new thing that takes over is itself an institution. Hierarchies form even in ad hoc collaborations. To actually produce something (e.g. a study, a paper, a book), someone must take the initiative to get things started. If multiple people are going to contribute, their efforts must be coordinated. Regardless of how decisions are made within this group, I believe a hierarchy will naturally emerge.

Thus far, the OAC is an example of an egalitarian, decentralized playground where we have yet to produce anything, other than the OAC itself. If original work is going to spring forth from the OAC, I believe leadership in some form and at least loose organization will be required.
There seems to be a rather Northern Protestant ring emerging to aspects of this discussion - there must be leadership; hierarchy exists (is institutionalised) and is an inherent value; there must be a product; this product (whatever it is) must acquire monetary value. We must not prognosticate about a better future than the institutions that already exist; each must know his place by service in the whole; to escape into play is to defy HIS will; we cannot be sure what that will is but we do know its results from what already IS...
Northern protestant? Why not Sumerian, Chinese, Mongol, Aztec or Zulu? Why not, for that matter, Mediterranean Catholic? One recalls several centuries in which the Catholic church, with its bishops, cardinals and Pope and clerical and monastic vows of obedience was, for the Western world, the major alternative to armies as a model for large-scale organization. (See Company Man:: The Rise and Fall of Corporate Life by Anthony Sampson (Hardcover - Sep 26, 1995)).

To note these things is not, by the way, to diss the dream of unstructured communitas in which amazing things can happen. Nor does it indicate any opposition to projects designed to promote freedom and equality, which I take to be good things. It is, rather, to ask how, given some fairly ugly facts how to create institutions that do a better job than the ones we are currently stuck with.
Ha ha, no one has ever accused me of being a Northern Protestant before. (But of course we all know that Jews were Northern Protestants before Northern Protestants were.)

No, present arrangements are not necessarily destiny. Human things were not always the way they are today--which I, as a researcher on nomadic tribes, know pretty well--and may be different in the future. But, there is a difference between letting our hopes and fantasies about the future run wild, and making an argument with some grounding, substantiated with some evidence.

It is also not a wise strategy to ignore history, for then you repeat its mistakes, first as anthropological theory, then as classroom texbooks. All of these wonderful ideals--equality, freedom, decentralization, universal love, free sex (oh, we already have that)--have long been fuel for social movements in the West. No, we did not invent them at OAC. Over several centuries at least, there have been a multitude of utopian community experiments, and several major revolutions, the results of which have been some of the greatest disasters ever to disgrace human efforts. Wouldn't it be instructive, and smart, to understand what went wrong?

I believe that anthropology should be a serious field of study, and that OAC should be a serious discussion of anthropology. While all of us have a lot to learn, and will always have a lot to learn, we do need to base what we learn on some grasp of what is serious, sound, and credible.
NIKOS GOUSGOUNIS said:
Are there northern orthodox Christians ?

Do you count Russians as northern?
So, John, does this mean that we have now exhausted the topic except as a silly season filler?

John McCreery said:
NIKOS GOUSGOUNIS said:
Are there northern orthodox Christians ?

Do you count Russians as northern?
I hope not; but a moment of levity was just what I needed after a day that combined working on the translation of a Japanese curator's essay on the Macchiaioli, a group of Italian painters (1850s-1890s) who were both precursors as well as contemporaries of the French impressionists and, especially during their later years, and artists who produced work that is similar in many respects to Japanese ukiyoe prints, with addressing the urgencies of three and one-year old grandchildren.

The essay is, by the way, an interesting exercise in comparative cultural analysis. The curator in question takes on the proposition that the Italian artists in question were directly influenced by Japanese models and concludes that there was, instead, a tangled web of interactions that begin with the introduction of theories of perspective associated with French Academic painting to Holland, from which they were exported to 18th century Japan, where they were refined and modified by ukiyoe printmakers like Katsushika Hokusai and Utagawa Kuniyoshi, whose work, when shown at the Paris Expo of 1878 led to a wave of enthusiasm for Japonesque that influenced the Impressionists and, because of their visits to Paris, several of the major Machhiaioli as well. The curator's thesis is that the popularity of Hokusai's work in Europe owed less to a sudden craze for exotic foreign art than a recognition of advances in treatment of perspective that were already part of an international movement.

The technical stuff about perspective is also fascinating. What Hokusai, in particular, did was to divide the picture plane into thirds, with one-third allocated to earth (stuff happening at ground level) and two-thirds to sky (stuff happening in the distance). Earth and sky were painted from two different perspectives with two different vanishing points. Some of the Macchiaioli used a similar technique.

Keith Hart said:
So, John, does this mean that we have now exhausted the topic except as a silly season filler?
John McCreery said:
NIKOS GOUSGOUNIS said:
Are there northern orthodox Christians ?

Do you count Russians as northern?
Hey Philip,

I don't want to say much more but... There appears to be a severe misunderstanding here. "Decentralization," is not an ideal. It's an observable phenomenon in society. I'm actually a little shocked that one could say such a thing while speaking on a collaborative network. If you study the trends and even the changes that have taken place in the past 10 years, the internet has become a much more collaborative and powerful tool in modern society. What about it exactly is an ideology? If I understand you correctly, it's the new wave of enthusiasts who think the internet is going to fix and solve everything, liberate everyone. It certainly won't.. But that doesn't discredit the reality it is going to change the way we organize ourselves within society, significantly. It already has to some degree. That's a reality we are all facing, and utilizing as we speak here...

This isn't a prophecy, it's more of a phenomenological observation. Society appears to be on its way to organize itself in far more complex ways. It will have its own laws and rules, and its own limitations. There will be power structures and challenges, just as there are today... But they will be significantly different. The laws that operate and help our society organize are changing. You can call this a sloppy argument, or empty or devoid of evidence... But this is a forum after all. I recommend reading "Flash Mobs," by Rheingold or "Here Comes Everybody" by Clash Shirky for a very in depth analysis and study of modern social and technological trends.

It's no utopia and it's definitely not relatable to marxism. There will be greater "wholes," not just liberation, but evolution of society... This is an entirely different matter than a dialectic or some "end point" in which the evil capitalists will be vanquished, or something to that extent. The evidence is the internet, and yes it has emerged from bureaucratic states, centralized organizations, it's been paved by multi-national businesses and encompasses the globe- where else could it come from? In any kind of evolutionary change, the newer components emerge from the older ones. So the argument is: we've been inadvertently, and ironically paving the way for a major shift in societal organization.

To belittle the significance of the internet is to miss the point... Something new is emerging, and it has quite a lot of potential. Just as any communicative technology has had in the past to influence society. I believe, for one, that this will be at least as important and crucial as the printing press was... There is plenty of factual evidence we can look at to see how people are utilizing internet communication as a dominant means of speaking with each other. We're on such a network. Wikipedia, youtube, blogging are only the bare skeleton of what's to come, if the technological trends continue. If you observe these trends and facts thoroughly, there is certainly a powerful argument.

Philip Carl SALZMAN said:
Jeremy said: "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."
This has been a dream through the 19th and 20th centuries. Remember Marx's idea that the state would fade away? It did not exactly happen in the USSR, China, North Korea, or any of the progressive, people's utopias. So far you have offered no evidence of such a development, other than the existence of the internet, a phenomenon much owing to state bureaucracies, including military bureaucracies. Prognosticating and prohesizing is a tricky business at best, and the future is always a mystery. But one must at least have some kind of credible argument.
Thanks John! I'll check it out. I appreciate recommendation!

John McCreery said:
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.
I agree to some degree...

There are some basic ideas that tend to be over looked, and I think it's ok because sometimes it's harder to recognize alternative possibilities, especially if bureaucracies, hierarchies are so ingrained. The good news is, I guess, as time goes on the alternative means of "mass organization," will begin to be self-evident and very, very observable... Because they'll start to influence the more rooted, observable institutions... government, big business, etc. Once those notably change, social scientists might begin to chime in a bit more...

Huon Wardle said:
There seems to be a rather Northern Protestant ring emerging to aspects of this discussion - there must be leadership; hierarchy exists (is institutionalised) and is an inherent value; there must be a product; this product (whatever it is) must acquire monetary value. We must not prognosticate about a better future than the institutions that already exist; each must know his place by service in the whole; to escape into play is to defy HIS will; we cannot be sure what that will is but we do know its results from what already IS...
Jeremy, I like the way you are arguing here and agree (here is our common ground) that the Internet makes a tremendous difference. It has certainly made a tremendous difference in my life and not just through the access to new friends and colleagues that enriches my intellectual life. Thanks to the Internet, I can be in Cambridge MA looking after my grandchildren while continuing to do business (translation and copywriting) with clients in Japan. Dramatically improved access to information is also part of the effect. I couldn't begin to do the translation project in which I am now engaged (a Japanese curator's essay on a group of mid-to-late 19th century Italian painters) without the online dictionaries and search engines that provide the information I need.

I know, too, as a long-time Democratic Party activist that the Internet has transformed politics. Everyone rightly complains about the dominance of wealthy individuals and corporate interests when TV-driven campaigns require vast sums for advertising and major contributors call the tune. But the Howard Dean campaign and Barack Obama's successful run for the presidency mark the start of something new. Candidates can now raise larger sums by aggregating small donations through the Internet than they could by depending on large donors. We are still in a period of transition, but the power of large donors has already been substantially weakened.

That said, the limitation of access to the Internet has emerged as a critically important fact. The Internet turns out to be a superb tool for motivating and organizing activists. Internet-enabled activists remain, however, a minority of voters. That is why political strategists talk about the importance of "the last mile," the feet-on-the-ground, door-to-door, retail level politics that still delivers electoral victories.

That said, I am going to challenge your claim that, "'Decentralization,' is not an ideal. It's an observable phenomenon in society."

It is now one of the best-established results of network analysis that large networks tend to be composed of a few large hubs and far more numerous small ones. In "scale-free" networks the distribution of nodes inevitably follows a power law (of which Pareto's rule is the classic example). These principles have been demonstrated not only for social networks, but also for electrical power grids, transnational corporate networks, protein cascades in cell biology--as well as for the Internet (the physical infrastructure of computers, routers and cables) and the World Wide Web, links connecting Web pages. They appear, moreover, to follow mathematical rules, theorems for which there are solid proofs.

The upshot of all this is that the networked society will most likely wind up looking like David Harvey's "Condition of Postmodernity," in which winner-take-all competition separates the lucky few who wind up in major hub organizations from the the masses who struggle to survive in a dog-eat-dog world of outsourced services. Its class structure is likely to resemble the three-tiered models proposed by Robert Reich in The Work of Nations and Aihwa Ong in Flexible Citizenship. An international elite of knowledge workers, for whom the Internet, air travel, and five-star hotels make the world their oyster will occupy the top tier. A shrinking middle class will retain some importance as the primary constituencies of nation-state political parties. A global lumpenproletariat, lacking access to the Net and other resources, will struggle for survive and barely scrape by.

To alter this grim outlook will require significant political effort, effort that requires serious organization to be effective. Can enough of us be, to borrow the words of Paul Wellstone, "energized, mobilized and organized" to a sufficient degree? That is the test we face.

Jeremy Johnson said:
Hey Philip,

I don't want to say much more but... There appears to be a severe misunderstanding here. "Decentralization," is not an ideal. It's an observable phenomenon in society. I'm actually a little shocked that one could say such a thing while speaking on a collaborative network. If you study the trends and even the changes that have taken place in the past 10 years, the internet has become a much more collaborative and powerful tool in modern society. What about it exactly is an ideology? If I understand you correctly, it's the new wave of enthusiasts who think the internet is going to fix and solve everything, liberate everyone. It certainly won't.. But that doesn't discredit the reality it is going to change the way we organize ourselves within society, significantly. It already has to some degree. That's a reality we are all facing, and utilizing as we speak here...

This isn't a prophecy, it's more of a phenomenological observation. Society appears to be on its way to organize itself in far more complex ways. It will have its own laws and rules, and its own limitations. There will be power structures and challenges, just as there are today... But they will be significantly different. The laws that operate and help our society organize are changing. You can call this a sloppy argument, or empty or devoid of evidence... But this is a forum after all. I recommend reading "Flash Mobs," by Rheingold or "Here Comes Everybody" by Clash Shirky for a very in depth analysis and study of modern social and technological trends.

It's no utopia and it's definitely not relatable to marxism. There will be greater "wholes," not just liberation, but evolution of society... This is an entirely different matter than a dialectic or some "end point" in which the evil capitalists will be vanquished, or something to that extent. The evidence is the internet, and yes it has emerged from bureaucratic states, centralized organizations, it's been paved by multi-national businesses and encompasses the globe- where else could it come from? In any kind of evolutionary change, the newer components emerge from the older ones. So the argument is: we've been inadvertently, and ironically paving the way for a major shift in societal organization.

To belittle the significance of the internet is to miss the point... Something new is emerging, and it has quite a lot of potential. Just as any communicative technology has had in the past to influence society. I believe, for one, that this will be at least as important and crucial as the printing press was... There is plenty of factual evidence we can look at to see how people are utilizing internet communication as a dominant means of speaking with each other. We're on such a network. Wikipedia, youtube, blogging are only the bare skeleton of what's to come, if the technological trends continue. If you observe these trends and facts thoroughly, there is certainly a powerful argument.

Philip Carl SALZMAN said:
Jeremy said: "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."
This has been a dream through the 19th and 20th centuries. Remember Marx's idea that the state would fade away? It did not exactly happen in the USSR, China, North Korea, or any of the progressive, people's utopias. So far you have offered no evidence of such a development, other than the existence of the internet, a phenomenon much owing to state bureaucracies, including military bureaucracies. Prognosticating and prohesizing is a tricky business at best, and the future is always a mystery. But one must at least have some kind of credible argument.

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