Discussion of Barone and Hart's "The Open Anthropology Cooperative: Toward an Online Public Anthropology."

We've had some good discussions about the future of the OAC on various threads here and on the OAC Facebook page lately. Keith has suggested a couple times that it might be a good idea for more of us to read the article he and Francine Barone wrote about the formation of the OAC--and some of the possibilities and challenges with trying to build this online network. So here's a place where we can all download and discuss this article (and perhaps suggest other related works) and share some of our thoughts, responses, and ideas for moving forward.

Click here for the article.

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Thanks, Ryan. We should all take note; this is the kind of concrete action that moves things forward.

There is a lot to think about here. Close reading is required. Thus, the following remarks should be taken only as initial responses, subject to refinement or refutation.

First, Francine and Keith state clearly what their aim was in starting OAC, to create a forum in support of a larger political project. OAC was born as a step toward a revolution, to create new social forms for scholarly interaction. Keith has also been very clear since the beginning about his own stake in this, a desire to return anthropology to its Enlightenment roots as a science of humanity dedicated to creating a more just world. An initial question is, of course, how many of us currently involved in this discussion share one or both of these visions. But, and this is the heart of what I want to say, even if we are unanimous, is our consensus what the people we hope to attract and stimulate to contribute more actively looking for? I am reminded of another parable from the world of marketing.

There was, the story goes, a company dedicated to making the best drill bits in the world. It spared no effort to secure the best possible materials and constantly improve its technology. That company was put out of business by a company that didn't sell drill bits. Instead, it sold lasers. It turned out that what the customers wanted wasn't drill bits. What the customers wanted was holes.

Envisioning that sort of possibility is why I am pushing for making, identifying previous active contributors, growing our cadre and bringing in new voices a top priority. How to do that, given the data stored on Ning and Facebook becomes a vital technical issue.

Second, it will be tempting as we read this article to focus on this or that detail as the reason why OAC has developed as it has. I would like to suggest a broader perspective.

What do we see here? Passionate social entrepreneurs, an organization that within a brief period attracts intense interest. Growth overwhelms the management team and leads to divisive debates. Key members leave the organization. Growth stalls. A few old-timers keep it going.

This is not a unique story. Far from it, this is an oft-told tale much discussed in business management and organizational theory circles, where the usual problem is said to be the failure to grow the management team and train successors.

From my own experience, I recall an organization called The Forum for Corporate Communication, founded shorty after I arrived in Japan, in the early 1980s. Designed as a networking and mutual support organization for people doing English-language related jobs for Japanese corporations, it organized monthly dinners and workshops. The first couple of years were glorious. The membership grew by leaps and bounds. But that became a problem. What had, for example, been a relatively easy and pleasant job, greeting people at the door to the dinner meetings and checking them off a reservation list, became increasingly onerous. Greeting twenty people was fun. Getting two hundred checked off and into their seats was a pain. At early meetings the speakers were members talking about their own experience. Growth led to growing ambition and invitations to C-suite people from large corporations. Extending those invitations and baby-sitting the guests became another chore. As the founders burned out, complaints about the lack of member willingness to pitch in were heard. Once enthusiastic members became fed up and left. Then, for several years, a handful of elderly Japanese gentlemen became a de facto tenured for life board of directors. Things puttered along until a British entrepreneur who saw a chance to grow his own business organized a coup.

I have, to be sure, emphasized similarities between this story and what I have seen going on at OAC over the last couple of years. That there are also differences is also indisputable. No technological revolution was involved in setting up the Forum for Corporate Communications. Still, it seems to me that we have to consider the possibility that a bit of comparative research will turn up many similar examples and suggest issues and solutions of which we have been unaware.

Hope this is helpful.

This general background is helpful, I suppose. But in our chapter we make it clear that the original revolutionary aims of the OAC's founders were utopian and unrealistic. To my mind what is valuable for our current purposes is the analysis of what went wrong and what to do about it. For this thread I set very limited goals: to see what lessons we may learn from the rapid growth of OAC Facebook, how the two platforms might be better integrated, the need to extend our reach to non-western members etc. It is not to review the ultimate goals of the OAC, to overhaul the platform and so on. I have long ago recognized that academic anthropologists are the last constituency I should be looking for in order to promote an Enlightenment project. Of course we may find that our initial limited goals lead us to broader considerations, but let us start with the former and move cautiously to the latter, if at all.

Thanks so much for having put this wonderful document full of work, concepts, intentions, ..it will be historical for the Anthropology, in general, and for the Digital Anthropology. In both case of their public vision.

Even though, we should do the difference what is the impact in what we call "reality" and mesure as " bricolaires" by the moment, as well,  by the way to be carefull in not being confused ; a part of Anthropology with all of this.

In another hand, I could see most of the aims of OAC ´s document are going on so...to correct it this not means to change everything.

Today to write on-line it is diffirent afer ten years, we can go inside in the "amchair activist" category , like was in the past "the coffee revolutionary debat" but there some impacts and important changes to consider between them. Both depends on the mesure could reach to places completly far or near of the intentions...who knows?

Just, yesterday Bauman went to Spain, to a big meeting of thinkers and gave this interviwe to EL PAIS, that could help to see this phenomena, for the Anthropology as well....because, in spite it comes from strong changes and democracy, as said in the OAC´s doc in them too , another roots, in the past as in the present are totally different from them (see doc.)

Bauman spoke about the social nets today and the impact in the society and its interaction.

It is the link en EL PAIS http://cultura.elpais.com/cultura/2015/12/30/babelia/1451504427_675...

(if you dont read Spanish you can look for the refrence and the google translate. There is a video too in English)

I take his analyses like a proof that this moment it is extended and need to see the social nets in another way. His speech it is, doubtless, in order to generate mutual understandings and attempts to bring the approach of  other social epicenters of transmission and communication in use and disuse very well worked.

Personally, I consider the Anthropology public vision it is very much negative afectived by the cuts in A-level, and in many places to believe that the web page could show it much more...we should reflect in many ambits, this is not the totally. It is an important element of Anthropology for the public vision, as objects of study, etc. etc..

Our public vision will change with other kind of actions at the acedemy, professional collleges, jobs in town halls, ...and many cases that I could see, and paradoxically being more with the people because  this " amchair activist" as Bauman pointed , in Anthropology, it is bigger again... as well there is a regression to the " chair" like in the past...Are they moments or positions in the discipline?

As a Slower Anthropologist I try to combine, as a very "bricolaire", areas in which the intention point the position.

So thanks very much for this document and to invite to see again how is going the OAC´s webpage.

What when wrong and what to do about it is an excellent question, and this paper provides important evidence from the perspective of individuals who were closely involved in the events in question.But is this the only relevant evidence and the perspective the paper offers the only possible one? None of us think so. We would not be looking for fresh ideas if we did.

There is room here both for close, critical analysis looking for new angles on the details the paper covers and for stepping back and looking at the whole story in comparative perspective. Let's make this, however, a bit more concrete.

Assertion: The growth of OAC Ning has stalled. The growth of OAC Facebook is accelerating.
Critical reflection: It is not very long ago that OAC Ning's growth was accelerating. Is OAC Facebook's growth accelerating faster than OAC Ning's did during its glory days? Business people are familiar with the S curve, the common pattern in which a new product is launched. Initial growth is slow but then accelerates until the market is saturated, at which point sales taper off. Since OAC Facebook was launched after OAC Ning, it may be that OAC Facebook's growth will also taper off within, say, a year or two. Do we have any evidence one way or the other?

Assertion: The initial success and subsequent decline of OAC Ning are the result of the specific decisions and events described in Francine and Keith's paper.
Alternative hypothesis: The initia success and subsequent decline of OAC Ning is only one example of a generic process found in all sorts of volunteer efforts both on and off the Net.
Critical reflection: These two hypotheses are not mutually exclusive. Specific decisions and events both embody and shape generic processes. What, if anything, could have been done to produce a different result?

My personal conclusion: As we collect and analyze more data and recruit new people with fresh perspectives. More interesting questions like these will emerge. If we can add new data and fresh perspectives to close reading and discussion of Francine and Keith's paper, progress can be made.

Cecilia: Bauman spoke about the social nets today and the impact in the society and its interaction.

It is the link en EL PAIS http://cultura.elpais.com/cultura/2015/12/30/babelia/1451504427_675...

(if you dont read Spanish you can look for the refrence and the google translate. There is a video too in English).

Interesting interview with Zymunt Bauman where he reiterates a number of issues. 40 years of de-politicised global capitalism led to great opulence but also to a fundamental destabilisation of civil institutions. States are still working on the premise that national politics offers the only way forward, but these geographic states no longer has the kind of power they need to structure and integrate the social institutions that would reproduce the local system in a functioning way. The result is that life especially for the national middle classes, is becoming increasingly anxious and precarious because a predictable future for them is being ripped up to put in place something new that no-one understands yet.

The current kinds of new-media oriented social movements seem very powerful but are subject to rapid fracture: they look big but people can easily walk away from them because they are also highly individuated. Building something like an institution would demand a higher, or divergent, level of organisation than the current national-local levels of politics which are the only ones on view. As a result the current politics demonstrates massive crowding of people, a lot of anger and frustration, but also rapid dissipation of shared interest:

"Bauman: La gente suspendió sus diferencias por un tiempo en la plaza por un propósito común. Si el propósito es negativo, enfadarse con alguien, hay más altas posibilidades de éxito. En cierto sentido pudo ser una explosión de solidaridad, pero las explosiones son muy potentes y muy breves."

"these explosions are are powerful but short". A lesson there, perhaps, for our expectation about network activities like the OAC. My own more optimistic conclusion is that we shouldn't confuse the 'large' effect with the success; instead we should see the fact that a network like OAC has the potential for building a certain number of small, but workable relationships toward a new kind of institutional outcome as the important lesson. Hence, e.g. institutionalising a new way of discussing the open access anthropological media may not look like a 'great' achievement, but it is a significant one.

Thanks you for your message and what you pointed because it has trhee importants supports the body, the talk and the social intercation in the phisical space looking for aims in common. This is the ponit , to be together dont menas to be agree in all, we has petrified close the symbiosis a group of persons together and with the cybercomunication as well we has transfered it. And nevr it is like this, always ther is a tension, and I m happy of this tension..you know..The question is how we have lost the skills to dialogue and how they are changing with the machines now...what is the interecation closed the interests of a social group...

.sorry, well, now I would like to continue, later I will be able to do it...regards C

I read this again. i would summarise my parallel thoughts as:

  • There is good accessible online anthropology out there
  • There is relatively good anthropological commentary about the interweb
  • Now how do we use customise a tool from the interweb for the purposes of anthropologically informed social-change?
  • One option: How can we use it for educating people in anthropology in a different way than the university?

In short: Will the current University system collapse in the near future? It is massive business, massive infrastructure, massive control over academics, in cahoots with the rotten academic publishing industry, and importantly it produces pieces of paper more valuable than those produced by the a banknote printing machine. Where I research its a number one industry. 

So what would a "new form" look like? And what role does the interweb have in this, and thus the OAC?

I have a few concrete and cloudy hypothesis about this. What about you reader?

Good succinct thinking, Avi. I was originally contrasting ideas with social forms, claiming that much innovation is superficial in only treating ideas and often leaving old social forms untouched to subvert the new regime. By participating in new social forms, we reproduce and are formed by new social practices.

It is reasonable to talk about the universities as an old social form in need of replacement. What was the old social form? It was the 20th century adaptation of the medieval guild system to the needs of state bureaucracy, the drive to replace families with many professionals trained in universities, Hegel's recipe in other words. In the last 40 years much of this has been privatised and the corporate university is the result, a psuedo-market run by overpaid authoritarian bureaucrats. The guild system has been preserved, but educational goals have been abandoned in favour of commercial profit and exploiitation of students. Research became dominant after WW2. Before that teaching was the main task, bums on seats and this may become so again.

So the social forms of higher education are not static. If we ask what would constitute an improvement and how this relates to the interweb, the first challenge would be to ask how higher education could be made more democratic. What do people want from higher education and how are they getting it already? The universities are becoming more marginal to this process, partly because the guild system can't cope with the interweb. Some change will be internal to them and others external. This is already so.

And so we could go on. Focusing on social forms and routine social practce is to develop a more profound structural analysis and to recognize that social practice is how we enact and innternalise more equal, accessible and democratically organized institutions.

Abraham writes: "How can we use it for educating people in anthropology in a different way than the university?"

I love this angle and way of thinking to move forward. Universities are, as Keith says, an old social form that need to be replaced.

Keith said "the first challenge would be to ask how higher education could be made more democratic. What do people want from higher education and how are they getting it already? The universities are becoming more marginal to this process, partly because the guild system can't cope with the interweb."

A step would be to list all the resources a university offers that potential students of anthropology want that can be delivered online. The aim being to facilitate people (1) getting together or working with whatever organisation they have in place (2) and offering these resources for them to go about, in this case anthropology.

Key resources: libraries, mentors, equipment, rooms, peers, authoritative confirmation of learning (certificates), assessment

A little anecdote that informs my point: Where I research there is a very small resident population of around 300,000, and it has underpopulated according to local economists i.e. its GDP could better if more people packed in. In 2011 there was about 50,000 students in 2010. I haven't got most recent data yet, but going on other sources this has nearly doubled, plus around 4 more universities will be added to around 6 currently active (it may be 7 to 3, from memory). The majority of these students are from Turkey and the Middle-east, and a variety of countries across Africa. From many conversations there are a variety of reasons why these students wish to go to university that are familair to me and my UK peers. Why they specifically come to Cyprus though in order of importance (1) there is a lack of available university places where they come from, (2) the cost in those countries is too much for them (3) 'liberal' here and one can enjoy a relatively unrestricted personal life (4) its difficult to fail your exams here.

I would also clarify a position of mine: the interweb in my experience does not replace what I and valued peers came to university for, which is f2f and living with people who you can talk about things that you are passionate about. (Ironically not what the university really offered itself per se either.) Therefore I think MOOCs and such things that attempt to offer a cheap/free and information consumption format are valuable, but (sorry if stating the obvious) they are not online replacements. 

For me I view much of the web as a radically different type of communication, not a separate 'virtual' world, at least in the way I attempt to use it.

So with that all in mind

"What do people want from higher education and how are they getting it already?"

One small concrete suggestion:

At least a good minority portion want to learn, especially about the newest stuff in a field. At the moment I think it takes a lifetime to learn to navigate all the journals and so forth out there. Its great that there is such a quantity of material, but there needs to be explicit differentiation between a paper that is based on a life's work, or a paper that is about or based on something very limited which is fine, but there is mountains of it to drown in, and then a differentiation between stuff which is designed to be just for scholar > scholar communication or not.

Actually knowing how to not waste your life finding what is actually relevant, would be impossible without the interweb or a lifetime learning the ins-and-outs of the anthropological establishment. Yes I do manual archival research also, but that doesnt' help when it comes to reading contemporary work. So I do things like follow Keith Hart on facebook, or have google alerts setup, or participate in specialist facebook groups. Basically ways of collective filtering and aggregation. Following people on academia.edu or researchgate works better, and random golddigging with stuff like bookzz.org or libgen. Findinga good course outline is always great too :)

IN SHORT So that was long disjointed ramble, but informs a small suggestion or beginning of an idea for: alongside paper centered seminars on the OAC, maybe a concrete objective could be to do seminars built around thrashing out different subjects of interest, with the outcome being an overview of the topic, bibliography, accessible resources, discussion etc.. Perhaps can start by asking South-East-Asian contingent what topic would be most helpful. Salient, poignant one.

Maybe we are knocking not in the correct door of changes. Universities, webpages, institutions of different studies are very far or very closed of the social changes , ..changes grow out the most of the times...

Maybe we are waiting changes in these areas and those have not to be in there...if the changes can be connected but the center of change there isnt there...or if it is we could see exmples from the past about it.

It is complex, sad sometimes,...we are alwyas in the back, it is a logique of the time-space...

I consider with this discussion we are arriving to the point of ours limits in this particualry historical situation for the transmission of Anthropology too.. We are confronting so much with the side of the society that it is not easy for anybody to see...so that put us in a conflict as well...

At least I could read that to think in trash it is helpful.

In any case to differenciate areas of doing Anthropology and their coonnectivity can put clear what we look for to change  in the page. 

In spite of this, I think it is no need to do A LOT OF SEMINARIES; THINGS:::just because I think we speak a lot betwen us in proportion with the world that not belong to Anthropology so we lost much more that connectivity.

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