The Back-In Lede
Over at Savage Minds, Matt Thompson posted Alright, how about a Digital Anthropology Interest Group? earlier this week. The comments are up to twenty-eight, and I want to discuss here Matt’s outline for an interest group within the American Anthropological Association institutional framework and the many suggestions and ideas that people provided.
I have written more on digital anthropology in the past year than I expected, most recently on the AAA’s stand against Open Access (followed by a quick almost-retraction) and an overview of Digital Anthropology: Projects and Platforms.
My own ideas about a digital anthropology group date back to the #AAAfail controversy over science, and the letter a group of anthropologists (including myself) wrote to the AAA leadership. It finished:
We encourage the Executive Board to consider how to support anthropologists working online, and to encourage further online collaboration and dissemination among AAA members. This will strengthen the discipline, and also permit more timely discussion and engagement among AAA members…
We view our online role as anthropologists as contributing a valuable service to the discipline we love. We are hopeful that this episode in our shared history will prove to catalyze important and inclusive dialogue regarding who we are as anthropologists as well as the channels we use to communicate with one another. We encourage the EB and the AAA membership as a whole to participate in this online community, to hear and join with the voices that are coming from within our discipline. This is an opportunity to move past marginalization and work together toward rebuilding a truly interdisciplinary anthropology based on mutual respect.
My thoughts below have also been shaped by Greg’s contributions onsite, in particular his pieces Blogging for Promotion: An Immodest Proposal (take getting credit by the horns!) and Brand Anthropology: New and Improved, with Extra Diversity!
The Digital Anthropology Interest Group – Proposals
What should a Digital Anthropology Interest Group look like? What is its purpose? What will it do? These are important questions raised by Matt and by many commentators, in particular John McCreery.
Matt proposes three basic functions:
(1) Form a common meeting place, both at the AAA conference and online
(2) Compile and communicate important information
(3) Raising awareness and being proactive within the AAA, while connecting to other groups outside the AAA
In terms of the comments, I will highlight four strands:
First, Ryan Anderson writes about an interest group that it should be about “making connections, making things available, and creating places that help direct people (teachers, students, general audience, etc) to the kinds of content that is being produced.”
Second, Danny Miller points to a forthcoming edited volume, Digital Anthropology, that focuses on research on the digital. Besides critiquing the parochialism of a AAA group speaking for digital anthropology coded large, Miller points to how research, training, and funding form a defensible intellectual program within anthropology.
Third, Megan McCullen (among others!) highlights a push for open access and the creation of new platforms and digital repositories for research and dissemination: “a hub for Open Access Anthropology Papers. This is potentially a general repository, possibly one that has some level of peer review, perhaps something that includes both.”
Finally, John Hawks stakes out a different space for the group, one that is not about digital anthropology research but about the presentation of open data, incorporation of digital tools in research, and other digital means for doing research in public and disseminating results in novel and often broad ways. “As I’m reading, it seems that ‘digital anthropology’ engages different audiences in different ways… There clearly is a ‘digital anthropological genetics’ unfolding today, using many of the social media tools that are developing for other kinds of online communication and community building.”
The Digital Anthropology Synthesis
In the Savage Minds comments, John McCreery repeatedly challenges the group to present a coherent vision and purpose for the group. So here goes, a second draft building on the Savage Minds post. Hopefully it will lead to an even better final draft. And an actual formation of a AAA interest group!
The Digital Anthropology group should do three things:
-Focus on research
-Foster communication and networking
Together these can drive strong growth in the group and its broader impact, and have the dynamism and openness to avoid being a “one issue” interest group that might quickly rise and just as quickly fall.
The Digital Anthropology group should foment change both within and outside the American Anthropological Association. It should both support and critically examine open access initiatives, with a focus on how to achieve greater access to anthropological scholarship while having a sustainable business model. It should promote blogging and other forms of online dissemination and public engagement, and argue for greater recognition and accreditation of online scholarship. It should promote outreach across the sub-disciplines in anthropology and between academic and applied anthropologists, while actively working to connect with anthropologists and organizations working outside the American Anthropological Association institutional framework. Finally, the Digital Anthropology group should recognize that inequalities of all sorts recreate themselves online, and that inside and outside the discipline, problems in representation and access will take new forms that need to be addressed both directly and indirectly.
The Digital Anthropology group should focus on research. The group will support anthropologists who focus on digital mediation and engagement – on digital anthropology as an object of research – using a range of anthropological approaches. Anthropologists can also use digital forms to enhance research in other ways, from tackling large data sets to fostering ideas and using social media to improve how research is done. Finally, the Digital Anthropology Group will support researchers in their attempts to do research in public, from making data accessible to the building of repositories for data sets and publications.
The Digital Anthropology group should foster communication and networking. One of its primary purposes will be to provide a common space, both at meetings and online, to communicate and interact among members of the group. The group will also actively pursue ways to provide resources, ideas, examples, and critiques on using digital initiatives and social media in teaching. Given how digital concerns can bring people together in novel ways, the group will draw on digital anthropology as a way to create the flow of ideas and relationships across sub-fields within the AAA, between applied and academic anthropologists, and across international boundaries. Finally, the Digital Anthropology group will actively promote way that digital communication can enhance interactions with the many communities we serve and reach the broader public.
The AAA Digital Anthropology Interest Group – In Brief
The Digital Anthropology Group will provide a common forum so that members help move anthropology to embrace how digital forms of communication, interaction, and research increasingly mediate what we do as anthropologists.
-Online scholarship and accreditation
-Outreach within the field, with practicing anthropologists, and with anthropologists outside the AAA
-Addressing inequalities of access and representation, from indigenous groups to political economic disparities to gender and race online
Focus on Research
-Digital anthropology as a focus of research
-Using digital tools for data and for improving the creation and execution of research
-Support research done in public, including repositories for data and publications
Foster Communication and Networking
-Offer a forum to communicate and interact among members
-Provide resources, ideas, examples and critiques of digital initiatives in teaching
-Draw on digital anthropology as a way to create the flow of ideas and relationships among anthropologists inside and outside the AAA
-Embrace the ways that digital communication can reach the broader public