20 July 2017

Anthropology in a Tag Line

Anthros...tell me if you've heard this one before:

Question: Oh, you're an Anthropologist? So, you dig up bones, right?
Answer: Well, some anthropologists excavate bones and others work with material culture, but I look at aspects of culture...
Follow up question: So wait...are you like Indiana Jones?
Answer: Erm...Well, I think the film 'tomb raider' is an apt depiction of his real job title... 

This conversation happens with non-scientists and scientists alike and reminds us of the important question: How do you define Anthropology for those who are less familiar with what the discipline does? 

This is not a discussion of Anthropology's "PR problem" (for more on this see Matejowsky and Reyes-Foster's  Guest column: Anthropologists should do a better job of promoting their field from 2013 and Anthrodendum (then Savage Mind's) response entitled Anthropology: It’s not just a "promotion" problem from the same year). 

While Public Relations may be a factor of this conversation, it is also important to think about how anthropologists describe and define what Anthropology is to others because this happens everyday. To make this even more challenging, can we summarize what anthropology does in a 'tag line'?

Enter Andi Simon. Who is Andi Simon? She is a Corporate Anthropologist who helps executives see their companies with more observant eyes, achieve “aha!” moments, and discover new and profitable opportunities. By applying the concepts, methods, and tools of anthropology to business environments, she turns observation into innovation and revitalizes businesses seeking growth.

Simon's tag line for her business is Observation into Innovation

In a synopsis of her book On the Brink (2016), Simon defines anthropology as: ... anthropology – the science of observing humans to understand how they live – corporate anthropology encourages business leaders to step outside their day-to-day processes to observe not only how their enterprises operate, but where unmet needs truly exist.

Is Anthropology so easily definable? I hear a rally cry of NO! and yet, one might argue that the dedication to observation and as we see below, situated observation with an eye to context and holism, do speak to many of the hallmarks of an anthropological toolkit. 

Simon was recently featured in an article by Adam C. Uzialko entitled Adapt or Die: How Cultural Anthropology Can Inform Business Strategy

In this interview, Simon describes anthropology's real value as the ability: to help people pause, step out and look at the way they have always done things in new ways – and then make them happen. Simon continues on to state Anthropology is a vital part of the business toolkit today for those who want to understand their business and how to keep it active and agile in fast-changing times

Simon is not the only anthropologist crafting usable and consumable definitions of the discipline. Such interpretations of the discipline surely drive curiosity of non-anthropologists about who we are and what it is we can do. 

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17 July 2017

Remembering & Memories: there's an app for that...

As we've posted about before, the adoption of new media and technology in our lives has an impact on our social lives in many interesting ways. In many ways, new technological platforms -- such as digital communications and social media -- are already embedded with certain cultural assumptions. At the same time, there are always unexpected outcomes and unforeseen ways in which the incorporation of new media and technology shape our relationships with others, our environments, and ourselves.

Facebook Memories
This relationship between cultural actors -- including the new digital "memory" systems in our lives -- is what Molly Sauter (PhD student in Communications Studies) addresses in Instant Recall (27 June 2017, Real Life). In this short analytical piece, Sauter addresses three types of memory system and how they have shaped our memories, and the act of remembering: predictive text, "data doppelgangers constructed for ad targeting," and more particularly, reminiscence databases (e.g. Facebook Memories).

Sauter explores how digital evocations of memory differ from physical ones, such as "yearbooks, photographs, cars, houses, trees, gravestones."
These physical evocations age, and their value and veracity as objects of testimony ages with them and us. They date, they fade, they display their distance from the events they are connected to and their distance from us. Digital memory objects, on the other hand, although they might abruptly obsolesce, do not age in the same way. They remain flatly, shinily omni-accessible, represented to us cleanly both in the everlasting ret-conned context of their creation and consumption. 
Contrast this algorithmic "remembering" with how another contributor to Real Life describes the nostalgic recreation of community online through her mother's experience using Facebook in "Post, Memory" (7 July 2016, Real Life). Kelli Korducki's mother had grown up in a small Salvadoran village, once decimated by civil war, and now rebuilt online as a closed Facebook group called “Memorias de ______,” boasting "a membership in the low hundreds, which is impressive given the village’s reasonably small size." 

In this digital community space, "long-lost neighbors and relatives resumed contact after decades of quiet separation, strewn from Virginia to Montreal to Los Angeles and points above, below, and in between." On Facebook, members and diaspora descendants of this scattered community came together, sharing and creating artifacts of the long-gone community, juxtaposed with images and details of the living village today.

What do these different insights onto the intersections of memory or the act of remembering with social media tell us about everyday life? How might these examples be useful in discussing social relationships, memory, cultural artifacts, or even imagined communities?


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13 July 2017

To PhD or not to PhD...

To PhD or not to PhD... this is a question that many prospective and current students haven't thoroughly considered. As Daniel McCormack notes in "Some Lesser-Known Truths About Academe" (CHE), part of the problem here is that students often ask their professors' advice, which is "a little like asking The Rock — aka Dwayne Douglas Johnson, the world’s highest-paid actor last year — whether you should become an actor."

Luckily for prospective PhD students today, the rise of social media has made it much easier to find a range of advice from people who aren't already professors -- whether they are current students, ex-students, alt-academics, adjuncts, or tenured professors. This should mean (and hopefully does, if you're reading this blog) that students should have a much better idea of not only whether pursuing a PhD is right for them, but how to pursue this long-term degree in a way that gives you more fulsome, recognizable career options when you complete. We've posted a couple of these discussions for prospective PhD students on our Advice for Grad Students page, such as What you should know before entering a PhD programme (Hortensii), and What is a PhD, anyway? (Jennifer Polk on UA).

So, what does McCormack want you to know? From his perspective as someone who left a postdoc position after a smooth and rather successful experience in academia, he wants you to consider some of the difficult questions about how and where you are willing to work (especially if you have your eyes on the tenure-track prize). He writes: "I want to focus on the aspects of academic work and life that are selectively bad — that is, they’re bad for some people, but not for others." Consider whether any of these potential deal-breakers with an academic future apply to you:
@AcademicsSay on twitter: "Academic life is less
like a box of chocolates and more like a pie eating
contest where the prize is more pie."
  • You have to like long-term projects
  • You don’t need to feel like you’re succeeding
    • As one of McCormack's mentors advised early on: "You absolutely must condition yourself to fail. Constantly. For every small success I had in graduate school, I am certain I had at least a dozen failures: rejected articles, brutal conference reviews, unexpected flaws discovered in something I’d just spent days working on, etc." (Basically, you have to be comfortable with few markers of progress, develop an ability to thrive on constructive criticism, and accept inhabiting "imposter syndrome".)
These final two deal-breakers have more to do with life on an academic career track than grad school itself:
  • You don’t care where you live
  • You don’t mind moving frequently
With that said, if you are open to thinking differently about what a PhD means and what these studies can do for you (for instance, as a way to pursue an alt-ac career through a more holistic approach to your professional development), the last two considerations might not necessarily apply. You can check out our collected advice on ways to think about what a PhD might mean for you beyond a tenure-track position.

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