Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The transformation of pasture into fleece

When I finished my Masters, I wanted to study with Penny Dransart at University of Wales, Lampeter. Obviously I went on to do other things (even though I still study humans and non-humans) and her work is still totally brilliant:

Earth, Water, Fleece and Fabric: An Ethnography and Archaeology of Andean Camelid Herding

"Through a richly detailed examination of the practices of spinning yarn from the fleece of llamas and alpacas, Earth, Water, Fleece and Fabric explores the relationship that herders of the present and of the past have maintained with their herd animals in the Andes. Dransart juxtaposes an ethnography of an Aymara herding community, based on more than ten years fieldwork in Isluga in the Chilean highlands, with archeological material from excavations in the Atacama Desert. Relevant historical evidence is adduced. This work investigates the material culture of pastoral communities at the transition from a hunting and gathering way of life over three thousand years ago, its relationship with the domestication process, and how spinning and weaving in contemporary Isluga express the values of a herding way of life. These values are intimately related to the perceived importance of the landscape with its resources of earth and water in the transformation of pasture into fleece. Impeccably researched, this book is the first systematic study to set the material culture of pastoral communities against an understanding of the long-term effects of herding practices. It offers original insights into understanding gender relations among the herders who establish the working relationships with their animals that enable them to produce yarns and fabrics, while also adopting a dynamic perspective on studying technical changes that have occurred in the textile production in the Andes."

Also: Kay Pacha: Cultivating Earth and Water in the Andes

Photo by Max xx

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Saturday, February 16, 2008

How would you evaluate a chair?

I was just looking at student project proposals for Dori Tunstall's design research methods course, and I was quite impressed by how the following two projects merge the concerns of anthropology, art and design:

Anna Leithauser, MFA Student Graphic Design, The Art of Bookspines (pdf)

The project investigates the use of bookspines as designed objects, as consumer items, and as decorative art. The goal is to study both how bookspines have impacted the design, sales, and evolution of books and how changes in the book industry have affected bookspine design.

Brett Jones, BFA Student Graphic Design, Expensive Sneakers in the Hip Hop Community (pdf)

This project studies the role of the marketing of African-American hip-hop rappers and athletes in making expensive sneakers a necessity and obsession in the African-American hip-hop community.

I was recently asked to explain what I think the connections are between anthropology and design, and I tried to describe how both involve thinking, doing and making.

Objects That Look

"Despite police ‘crackdowns’ and the increasing availability of willing sexual partners online, the canal remains popular with men seeking anonymous and impersonal encounters with other men. During my fieldwork I employed a combination of ethnographic voyeurism and online ethnography to gain an insight into this capricious and difficult to access group. Sketch enabled me to place the witnessed body into a photograph of the empty site, avoiding the ethical, legal and practical complications of recording participants’ identities during ‘the act’. The downside of the technique was that ultimately the other becomes my creation in the collages. However this feels a more honest representation of my experiences and the men’s objectification of each other when cruising."

Michael Atkins, MA Visual Anthropology, University of Manchester


Design Anthropology – When opposites attract (pdf) by Werner Sperschneider, Mette Kjærsgaard and Gregers Petersen

"Design anthropology is a point of view: Not our (the designers) point of view not their (the users) point of view, but an additional point of view, a double perspective ... There are different levels of intervention in the field with users, but design is always a social activity. Involvement in situated practice is about people and their activities, and understanding one's social intervention through a piecing-together."


"I think there is a role for anthropology along all of the steps of the design process. But of course I would say that. Anthropology can help inspire new designs by providing profiles of users and stories about contexts of use. Anthropologists can play on design teams as designs get developed to sensitize designers to culturally and context specific issues. And finally, anthropologists can evaluate the effectiveness of designs through studies of actual use in context, either prototype, pilot, or after product roll-out."

- Mimi Ito, Interview with Mimi Ito by danah boyd

Today in class we watched Manufactured Landscapes, a documentary on Edward Burtynsky's photos of where things come from. Everyone claimed that technological progress comes with a high price. No one felt they could do anything about it.

Design Education as Applied Anthropology by Anthony Inciong

"Design education for me is an opportunity to connect with the world in a variety of ways. My goal is to exploit a potential – to reveal how an anthropological perspective might be used to raise the potency and relevance of design ... I’m not proposing a creativity-eschewing, scientific study that has us spinning our wheels ... I’m interested in developing a practical method that accounts for our propensities as creative individuals but also facilitates our putting those to use in appropriate ways."

Visualizing Information for Advocacy (pdf) by John Emerson

IxDA video: Ethics of Everyday Design by Gabriel White

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Friday, February 8, 2008

Ethnography and design

LIFT08 Conference videos on ethnography and design:

Younghee Jung, Nokia

Genevieve Bell, Intel

Paul Dourish, University of California Irvine (USA)

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Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Human terrains and other entanglements

After a wonderful visit with friends from London, we're off to Montréal in the morning for the 4S conference -- more on that as it unfolds.

Meanwhile, I was searching academic job postings this morning and was seriously alarmed at how many PSYOP positions were available. This is a difficult topic I don't have time to tackle right now, but I want to collect some links here on the US military's "human terrain teams" and anthropological ethics that I can return to later.

The Military Utility of Understanding Adversary Culture (pdf) by Montgomery McFate
US Army:
- Networds: Terra Incognita and the Case for Ethnographic Intelligence
- The Human Terrain System: A CORDS for the 21st Century
New Yorker: Knowing the enemy
CS Monitor: US Army's strategy in Afghanistan: better anthropology
NY Times: Army Enlists Anthropology in War Zones
SF Chronicle: Montgomery McFate's Mission
Boston Globe: Efforts to aid US roil anthropology
Economist: Armies of the future
Savage Minds:
- Anthropologists as Counter-Insurgents
- Some general thoughts about anthropology, interrogation, and torture
- Cultural Dynamics in Interrogation: The FBI At Guantanamo
- Professor Griffin Goes to Baghdad
- More and more anthropologists are recruited to service military operations
- The dangerous militarisation of anthropology
- Anthropology and CIA: "We need more awareness of the political nature and uses of our work"
CAC Review: Anthropology's Dirty Little Colonial Streak?
David Price: Writings on Anthropology's Interactions with Military & Intelligence Agencies
NCA: Pledge of Non-participation in Counter-insurgency

In related news, the 2008 CASCA conference theme is 'Ethnography: Entanglements and Ruptures' with a special symposium on 'The Promise and Perils of an Engaged Anthropology'. Catherine Lutz is giving the keynote talk entitled "Ethnography in an Era of Permanent War" and abstracts for papers and panels can be sent to by October 15th.

UPDATE 02/11/07: David Price's article in CounterPunch - Pilfered Scholarship Devastates General Petraeus's Counterinsurgency Manual - raises serious questions about academic integrity and the role of the University of Chicago Press in publishing the Counterinsurgency Field Manual for the public. (Thanks B!)

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Wednesday, May 30, 2007

If I could interview the ethnographers...

Just reading this BBC article on Jan Chipchase, I finally got a glimpse of what I've always wanted to know: What, exactly, does he produce for Nokia? Well, for one, it's patents.

Apparently being a bit daft, I hadn't thought about this before. But then I thought, "Wow, that's got to be an important difference between corporate and academic anthropology/ethnography!"

And all of this reminded me that for years I've wanted to do an ethnographic study of corporate ethnographers. Well, actually, I'd be just as happy to interview tech-company folks like Jan and Genevieve Bell. In fact, here's what I'd ask:

1. Can you describe the skills and credentials you've gained from academic, corporate and fieldwork contexts? Are these abilities and statuses transferable? When is 'translation' most successful and when is it most challenging?

2. What is the relationship between method and theory in your work? What is your relationship with study participants? What are the products of your work? How do you account for their validity, relevance and value? What role does intellectual property play in all this?

3. Do you believe there is a place for critical social and cultural approaches to technology in your work? If so, what form and function might they take? What would their strengths and limitations be? If not, what are the reasons why?

4. What role do public relations (media interviews, lectures, blogs, etc.) play in your work? What are the benefits and downsides of having public personas? How do you negotiate boundaries between public and private life, or work and play activities?

Although, if you believe that ethnography is generally interpretive work then you would, and should, expect me to go beyond this and try to make sense of the answers.

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