We have had some discussion on the main thread concerning a possible mission statement or manifesto for the OAC, with some emphasis on an apparent contradiction between the need to clarify what we are about and the need to leave people free to pursue their diverse interests. This thread hopes to assemble contributions to a working definition of what the OAC is and what it is for. These could take the form of what the OAC does for you personally or it might be more programmatic. We might have as an aim producing a summary document and putting it to a vote by the OAC membership.

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Some preliminary considerations. What I have in mind is not a blueprint which attempts to identify a form that the future will take. Rather we might come up with ten indicators of where we would like to go, recognizing that some of them might be contradictory and all we could hope for is the best compromise available at any time. This model is also compatible with building a place where people can find others with shared interests in scattered pockets without signing up for some overarching plan to change the world.

I have been much influenced by my experience at Cambridge University. I have taught in over a dozen universities on four continents and Cambridge is the only one that lacks a unified hierarchy headed by a president or some such. Cambridge has three overlapping but independent spheres: departments, colleges and centres. If any one hierarchy proves to be onerous, you have the option of shifting into another one. Since there is no one structure to adapt to and there are many cracks or gaps, there is a premium on people building up their own networks and activities. I like to think that the reason Cambridge has produced more revolutionary thinkers than anywhere else (Newton, Darwin, Babbage, Maxwell, Rutherford, Keynes, Crick/Watson) has something to do with its relatively open network character.

I don't want the OAC to be like a university, especially since the institution seems to have exceeded its sell-by date. But I would like it to attract members who find here a supportive and serious framework for taking their interest in anthropology to a new level that they can't find elsewhere. The biggest threat to this aim is the dominance here of people who live and work in the universities. They colonise the atmosphere of the place with their academic language and attitudes, not to mention their intolerance for anyone else's language. Yet inevitably, since anthropology is hardly a household word, many of those who take an interest in it will do so from within academia. We just have to try hard to ensure that our enterprise is open to non-academics and does not remain trapped inside a moribund social institution.

If we want to identify what the OAC is, we could start with the three words of our name. Open is the most fully realised of these, since it played a central part in our foundation. This is reflected in the description found in About. Open is a weasel word since its use always hides that, in order to be open in some respects, you have to be closed in others. It is the same with freedom and necessity. Anthropology is a lot more problematic, not least because it has often been an anti-discipline, a holding company for people to do whatever they like anywhere and call it "anthropology". There is also the twentieth-century tradition of the academic guild to overcome. Cooperative is easy to understand and hard to realise in practice. It means working together in an egalitarian way and not in isolation as usual. Taking them together, I would say that we aim to be a new kind of virtual society, one that embraces the social and technical possiblities of our moment in history (rather than fighting them) and is focused on an improbable purpose, anthropology, whatever that is and whatever it is good for.

In order to find the words that express our common and separate interests and to identify the future we aspire to, we have to tell stories, including intellectual and social history. But for now, let's have a go at those ten indicators.

 

 

So this is my shot at 10 points. Obviously I have thought about this a lot, but this list is genuinely spontaneous, in the order that they came to mind. This in the interest of inviting participation. You don't have to labour over your contribution, but of course you can if you like.

1. The OAC is a virtual society by and for anyone with an interest in anthropology.

2. Members come from all round the world and we would like our microcosm to point to ways it could be improved.

3. English is our common medium, but we encourage the use of other languages here.

4. We recognize the contribution of the universities to the development of anthropology, but welcome non-academics and seek to extend the boundaries of conventional academic discourse.

5. By 'open' we mean open access, open membership, open to sharing new ideas, open to whatever the organization might do or become; open to everyone, as in ‘open source’.

6. By 'anthropology' we mean any serious attempt to develop knowledge of humanity as a whole, including its myriad internal differences.

7. By 'cooperative' we mean a shared aspiration to work together towards common goals set by the members themselves.

8. The object of anthropology is to understand and influence the world society that is being formed in our time. We believe that our efforts should draw inspiration from the human drive for greater democracy.

9. For the first time humanity has at its disposal universal means of communication for the expression of universal ideas. The OAC intends to take full advantage of that.

10. We study the human past and want a better world in future; but we feel that our knowledge will benefit most from engaging actively with our contemporary world.

 

 

 

Those sound great to me.

I do wonder if "open source" could suggest to some folks that they don't have ownership of their individual contributions.

First of all, I am glad to see these discussions sparking up again here at the OAC.  This place/site/network has tons of potential, and it's good to see ideas gathering more steam once again.

Second, I really like the way you talk about the possibilities with an open network, Keith.  What I really like about OAC (and some other online sites like Savage Minds and Neuroanthropology) is that they are part of these more open networks, and more importantly that they are not dominated by one institution.  I like the fact that OAC exists independent of the university system (even if a lot of the content is created by academics).  I definitely think it's a good thing to push anthropology--whatever it is for people--outside of those constraints.

I also think you make a really important point when you say that the OAC cannot just be another thing that's controlled and colonized by the academy.  I agree that it has to remain open to non-academics, and to different publics who have an interest in anthropology.  If anthropology is about the study of humanity, or the human condition, or culture, or society, it obviously can appeal to more people than just anthropologists--so it makes sense to keep the possibilities for conversation open (and to rethink how and why we communicate our ideas in particular ways).

Some reactions to your 10 indicators/points:

#1 I think this is key, and that there are ways that this site can be literally "opened" up to appeal to some wider audiences.  It would be great if people who have a general interest in anthropology could utilize the OAC as a place to learn more about the various manifestations of contemporary anthropology.  Jason Antrosio's site Living Anthropologically is one model for doing this, since it's pretty much like an intro anthro class online.

#2 This is one component that's really valuable to me, because "anthropology" isn't owned by the AAA (for example).  I think it's about time for some wider discussions about anthropology that move beyond (or between) the usual departments, organizations, and institutions.

#4 I already commented on this above, but it deserves a repeat.  Sometimes it seems that anthropology IS only about the academy, but there's obviously a lot more to it.  I like the idea of pushing for a conversation that extends beyond the usual, fairly closed discussions that take place in various academic anthro circles.

#7 I think the 'open' and the 'anthropology' part of OAC are doing pretty well.  The cooperative part, as I see it, needs a boost (and some renewed organization and direction).  These latest discussions are looking really promising for making reinvigorating the cooperative part of all this.

#8 This point about anthropology/democracy is appealing to me...I would be interested to hear others' responses or reactions about this.

#10 This is probably one of my favorite points.  Rather than simply producing knowledge for the sake of doing so, I appreciate the idea that there is a real benefit (and need) to actually engage with the world around us, rather than close ourselves off in the name of knowledge, etc. 

Thanks for posting this Keith.  I am looking forward to seeing what others say.

 

PS: Is there a way to post this thread on the front page of the site?  I think that would be a good idea.

Thanks for all this feedback, Ryan. Once we have something reasonably consensual from this group of self-declared potential activists, we could put it on the home page.

I'd like to give some new voices a chance here and don't want to repeat a lot of the same things I said in other threads. I just want to highlight this important part of Keith's opening statement:

The biggest threat to this aim is the dominance here of people who live and work in the universities. They colonise the atmosphere of the place with their academic language and attitudes, not to mention their intolerance for anyone else's language. Yet inevitably, since anthropology is hardly a household word, many of those who take an interest in it will do so from within academia. We just have to try hard to ensure that our enterprise is open to non-academics and does not remain trapped inside a moribund social institution.

Anything that might scare new members away or turn them into lurkers suggests that maybe we're just walking the walk of openness while confusing people genuinely interested in understanding anthropology. So my number 1 on the list would be to check academic egos and intolerance at the door.

Fran wrote: "So my number 1 on the list would be to check academic egos and intolerance at the door."

Agreed--I think this is a really good starting point.

Hi I wanted to link in some of what is being said on other threads at the moment:

 

On the suggestions thread we have been considering the idea of quality. The idea behind it is (and I hope I have it right here) that the sheer number of threads on OAC is overwhelming, so by demanding a level of a. interest from other members before posting and b. a level of quality in the post, e.g. points properly referenced to academic sources we will not only improve what is on offer, but also separate wheat from chaff as it were, allowing a shifting hierarchy around subject intimacy to emerge. To work this would require a more formal element of self-policing. Now, to my mind it seems that on the face of it this idea runs counter to the idea which Francine and Ryan support here, which is non-hierarchical- certainly not along the lines of academic egos, and certainly counters the idea of extending the boundaries of conventional academic discourse, (point 4).

 

I think resolving these two points of view is a critical step- how else can we legitimise the discussions if we are afraid to pull rank occasionally? Are we concerned enough with acdemic integrity or happy to wallow in opinions and gossip (as another poster put it). Is there a middle ground here which I am missing?

 

 

 

Greetings! I started a profile on OAC in 2009 and promptly forgot about it in the rush of my hyper busy life as a grad student/ bike activist. I've been blogging about my fieldwork since 2008, but with an audience of sustainable transportation activists rather than anthropologists. My blog shares my ethnographic research with the public (or at least my mom, ha). I'm very interested in making anthropology more of a public discipline, and to me the OAC has this potential. And now that I'm writing up my dissertation, I've been increasingly interested in being part of some online anthropology community. Personally what I would find most useful would be for the OAC to host a public profile for me as an anthropologist, like someone could come here, search for a term like "bicycling" or "experimental ethnography" and find me, then send me an email to discuss something. As for anthro-community-building/ idea-sharing, I agree with what others have said about limiting the number of spaces where people can have conversations. Just getting a handle on this "future of the OAC" discussion has taken me a few hours. Part of the challenge is organizing participation effectively so it doesn't just overwhelm potential participants and drive them away from participating!

Hi Adonia,

Good to have a fresh voice here. I agree with you about the difficulty of converting an open talking shop into coordinated action. Even th epeople who piled into this group last week have tired of it already. So, as you say, it must be even more off-putting for newcomers to have to wade through this stuff and then wonder what next. Several of your ideas are gaining ground, however: reducing the number of spaces available, making search easier through tagging, maybe raising the standard expected of contributions. And we have a mechanism in place to do something about this. Abraham has set up various pages which those who want to be constructive can join. Then it is a question of finding the means of translating some of this into action. It is pretty daunting given that even th eprime movers are thremsleves rather distracted by busy lives and the OAC is probably a low priority for most people but me. Still, with some enthusiasm from a handful of activists, we could turn the OAC into the global public community for anthropology that it has the potential to be.

Huzzah!

Keith Hart said:

Hi Adonia,

Good to have a fresh voice here. I agree with you about the difficulty of converting an open talking shop into coordinated action. Even th epeople who piled into this group last week have tired of it already. So, as you say, it must be even more off-putting for newcomers to have to wade through this stuff and then wonder what next. Several of your ideas are gaining ground, however: reducing the number of spaces available, making search easier through tagging, maybe raising the standard expected of contributions. And we have a mechanism in place to do something about this. Abraham has set up various pages which those who want to be constructive can join. Then it is a question of finding the means of translating some of this into action. It is pretty daunting given that even th eprime movers are thremsleves rather distracted by busy lives and the OAC is probably a low priority for most people but me. Still, with some enthusiasm from a handful of activists, we could turn the OAC into the global public community for anthropology that it has the potential to be.

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