Feb 14, 2011

What Next?

The dictator has been handed his pink slip, and not so quietly, been shown to the door.  What then?  A few days of revelry, yes, then the protesters get kicked out of the square - the time has come to get back to business.  But will it be business as usual, or will there be real change?  Now is the time when that question will truly be answered.

Of course it won't be business as usual in the strict sense - Mubarak is gone, and nothing's going to bring him back.  But how deep will the changes go?  Will the Egyptian military still control the country?  Will the emergency rules be released?  Will there be a crack-down on the protesters?  Will the next elections be truly free and fair?  Who will lead?  What other social and political changes will occur as a result?  These questions remain unanswered as of yet.

You see, it's one thing to take down a dictator - to deconstruct a regime.  It's a marvelous thing, to be sure: a moment of beautiful chaos where the passions of the populace are ignited and the affective resonance carries the movement forward.  Wave upon wave crashing upon the rigid cliffs - no rock can withstand the power of the water!

But once the deconstruction has been done, the real work is only just beginning.  The aftermath is not so momentous, not so beautiful or romantic, but it is, by far, more important (and, in my opinion, far more interesting anthropologically) than the revolution.  Now is the time when a new world can be built out of the rubble.  Now is the time when the questions posed above will be answered.  What will that new world look like?  I don't know.

Kim Stanley Robinson defines Utopia as "Struggle Forever" but too often we stop fighting when the battle is only half won.  My hope is that the Egyptian people don't stop now; that they continue the fight, and build a better society for themselves and for the world.

(Cross-posted at Eidetic Illuminations)

Feb 13, 2011

The Anthropology of a Revolution

The spark has been ignited and the whole world is aflame.  The Egyptian people rose up and took back their country, and, in so doing, sent waves of response and reaction across the globe.  Democratic uprisings have now occurred in several other Islamic nations, and commentators in the West are beginning to wonder: Why not here?  Yes... why not? 
The blogosphere has been buzzing over the last few weeks with news and analysis of the uprising in Egypt.  I want to share some of the best - most anthropological - coverage that I've seen:

Graham Harman has been providing detailed coverage of the events including his own experience return to Egypt during the protests and being evacuated.  
At Immanence, Adrian Ivakhiv provides some thoughts on the revolution from a process-relational perspective.  He also offers a look at the affective resonance that drives these types of events. 
At Zero Anthropology, Max Forte has been serving up insight in his usual provocative style, including a piece on what he calls the "(Hillary) Clinton Doctrine" of foreign policy at play right now in Egypt and other nations.
Chris Vitale has posted Eleven Theses Toward a Theory of Political Change, drawing lessons from the Egyptian people.
Krista Tippett's On Being had a special program titled "Demonstrations, Hopes, and Dreams" in which she interviewed Anthropologist Scott Atran about the future of Egypt and the role of the US in democratic uprisings.
Undestanding Society asks the question "Is there a Revolution Underway in Egypt?"
Kerim at Savage Minds speculates on the role of social media in the events in Egypt.  
And Michael at Archive Fire offers his Congratulations to the Egyptian People

If I've missed anything, I apologize.  Please feel free to add your own links in the comments section.

Daniel Lende: "You can read this blog for free"

Daniel Lende over at Neuroanthropology has a new post about some of the possibilities for anthropology. He talks about some of the recent PR controversies that took place within the field, and how this is illustrative of some of the primary issues and challenges that anthropologists face these days. We are, it seems, at a bit of a crossroads. And it's probably about time to move away from some of the old models and explore new ways of not only doing anthropology, but also publishing and disseminating anthropology. My favorite part of the post is when Lende talks about the contrast between old school publishing models (which lock up information behind expensive subscriptions) and some of the new possibilities:
The Nature commentary by Adam Kuper and Jonathan Marks is behind a paywall. It costs $32 to buy, unless you have institutional access. Ulf Hannerz’s article in American Anthropologist, which Greg drew on extensively in writing about diversity as anthropology’s brand, is available either through institutional access or by joining the American Anthropological Association. The cheapest AAA membership costs $70. You can read this blog for free (my emphasis).
That last line is a beauty. The point, as I see it, isn't to do away with journals, but instead to realize that the publication models are severely limiting. If we are all about the dissemination of anthropological analysis, concepts, and ideas to wider audiences, how is that supposed to happen if all of the latest research sits behind a subscription wall? The irony of course is that there is still a fairly skeptical view among THE ACADEMY about online publishing. Many question whether or not REAL RESEARCH can be published online. I mean, is it possible? However, I have recently run a complex experiment and come to the conclusion that yes, all 26 letters of the English alphabet do show up on screen, so it is indeed possible to publish real, valuable, and important work online. The only thing stopping this is a lack of either interest or desire. So it goes. As Lende points out:
A negative view of writing online (i.e., blogging) and a closed view of knowledge production (i.e., through institutional access or society membership) is still predominant in anthropology.
It's funny, when you think about. Or, at least, when I think about it. Anthropologists are doing all sorts of cutting edge, timely, and fascinating research. So why is our publishing model and ideology so....well...stale? The good thing is that people like Lende, Greg Downey, the folks at the OAC (Open Anthropology Cooperative), Max Forte, the Savage Minds crew, John Hawks, John Postill, Colleen Morgan, and a slew of others are indeed messing with the boundaries. Who knows? Maybe, at some point, more people outside of the academic world will actually know what anthropologists are up to.

Here's another good section from Lende's post:
Online media, not just writing, is an incredible way to reach the public. Michael Wesch, a cultural anthropologist who became interested in new media and teaching after doing his doctoral work in Papua New Guinea, work with his students to create a video, A Vision of Students Today. It has been viewed 4,136,850 times. That is an incredible impact.

And open access? Take PLoS One. It was founded in 2006, and covers research in science and medicine. In five years, it became the world’s largest journal. That is incredible success. One of its more technical journals, PLoS Biology, was founded in 2003, the first of the PLoS journals. It has been the highest impact journal in biology, as ranked by the Institute for Scientific Information. Open access isn’t just viable – it is the way to reach the broadest possible audience and have the greatest scholarly impact.

On Amazon, which came to fame and financial success by selling books online, its #1 product is its Kindle e-reader. Books themselves are going digital. And not just books. Amazon recently launched Kindle Singles, which presents “a compelling idea–well researched, well argued, and well illustrated–expressed at its natural length.” Apple’s iPad offers ways to integrate multi-media features with traditional text. Digital innovation in how we present scholarly material is already happening, and will continue to grow extremely rapidly.

Anthropologists need to go digital – blogging, collaborating, creating, sharing, and disseminating the field online. Blogs, the integration of new media with text, e-publications, and open-access publishing need to be part of how we keep our borderlands discipline healthy and vibrant.

To do otherwise, is to make the field into a marginal borderland, rather than the key meeting place and vibrant area of production the anthropology is today and can be even more so in the future.

Agreed. No need to remain on the borderlands any longer. Time to go push the boundaries and go digital. What's stopping us?

Cross-posted @ Ethnografix


Sep 19, 2010

The Dangers of Natural Gas Drilling

Anyone else dealing with this boom on drilling for natural gas? They've been going around here wanting to drill the wells without even tapping it yet, just setting up the infrastructure. People are concerned for the groundwater.




Aug 8, 2010

CEO John Mackey of Whole Foods Market on Conscious Capitalism, etc.

Admittedly I've been gone for a while teaching in the Marshall Islands. Now I'm starting a new job in the bustling town of Lewisburg, WV. I'll work as an AmeriCorps VISTA on sustainable local foods development, with support from the Natural Capital Investment Fund, Greenbrier Valley Economic Development Corporation, and Mr. Jim Cooper, recently retired from the USDA -- not to mention everyone else already involved in local foods who I'm eager to meet.

I've begun background research, mostly into USDA publications, but today my wandering mind led from Maine Tablestock Potatoes to the Whole Foods Market to this video conversation with CEO John Mackey discussing Conscious Capitalism, Consequences of Authenticity, and Public Trust in Business.(link)

His points on how the public imagines businesses and CEOs (often negatively) caught my interest. When I see Whole Foods Markets in GA along the road, I don't notice them as better than any other grocery. SHOULD I see them as different? I'm not convinced. Where is the line between business and "non-profit" organizations? Can we draw one, if "conscious" consumption becomes a habit in the marketplace, leading more and more businesses to try and tailor their products to the growing demand?

Also see: Whole Foods Market: Our Core Values

Whole Foods doesn't have stores in West Virginia, but I wonder if any local producers have luck marketing their products there in nearby metropolitan regions.

Mar 12, 2010

Convincing Climate Deniers

This article is cross-posted at Eidetic Illuminations.

Recently there has been quite a commotion on the Environmental Anthropology (EANTH) listserv over the science around global climate change (GCC). Essentially, a couple of climate deniers have stirred up the list, and they've been encouraged by a combination of polite people who want all voices to be heard and others who are willing to argue with them endlessly. This got me thinking about what it will take to convince climate deniers, and whether or not we should actually waste our time.

Part 1 - What is a Skeptic?
First of all, the climate deniers on the EANTH list have insisted on being called skeptics rather than deniers. They claim that "deniers" is a pejorative term meant to associate them with the likes of Holocaust deniers. So the question arises, what is a skeptic and do these individuals deserve that title?
A skeptic is a person who has an inherent doubt about any claim, and, therefore, requires a certain burden of proof to be established. Even then, a skeptic might hold on to some doubt as new evidence comes along which may change the picture. A genuine skeptic would look at the two sides of the climate debate and see that the climate scientists have a mountain of strong evidence in support of their claim (most of which is freely available from the IPCC) and a general consensus among scientists and the leading scientific organizations around the world that climate change is occurring and that it is caused by anthropogenic greenhouse gasses. The skeptic would then look at the denier's case and see a paltry amount of very weak evidence, and no general consensus except among energy companies, and others for whom climate policy poses a potential threat. A genuine skeptic might look for alternative explanations, but would conceed that the weight of the evidence is in favor of anthropogenic climate change.
As a result, I reject the use of the term skeptic to describe climate deniers. They don't weigh each side equally, expecting the same burden of proof from both sides. They have taken an emotional, political stance against climate change, and will automatically reject any evidence that contradicts them. Furthermore, their "science" is driven by economic and political claims, and backed by substantial funding from oil companies.
In fact, science has a built in skepticism. Any claims must be backed by substantial evidence, and those that are not will be outed in the peer-review process. I think a great disservice has been done to science in the last decade by those who think that all opinions should carry equal weight. In the scientific world, however, claims that cannot bear the burden of proof (i.e. intelligent design and climate denial) must be discarded. Climate deniers will claim that a conspiracy of scientists has kept them from getting a fair consideration. However no such conspiracy exists, and I would be far more doubtful of "science" that comes from powerful corporations with a vested interest in halting climate policy.

Part 2 - What will it take to convince them?
As I said above, climate deniers have taken an emotional, political stance against climate change science. They are not scientists, they are not concerned with the accuracy of the data, and they are will re-interpret or discard any data that contradicts their position. The mountains of evidence that support the climate change science is not enough to convince them, so what is?
I don't think anything will convince them short of some massive disaster with clear and direct ties to climate change. Nor will long, drawn out discussion and arguments on email listservs. Whenever I see debates such as the one on the EANTH list, I am torn between the desire to correct the climate deniers and the knowledge that my arguments will never change their minds. We seem to be caught in a double bind - we can't keep quiet or they'll win, and we can't engage in discussion because they don't care about the evidence. It seems to me that all we can do is mechanically repeat the facts "The planet is warming. The warming is caused by anthropogenic greenhouse gasses. It's already harming people, and will only get worse. We can do something about it." Rinse and repeat.

Part 3 - Do we really need to convince them?
The media tends to exaggerate extremes, and that's why we hear scientists arguing with climate deniers all the time in the news. Some of that needs to be done, especially for building support at the policy level. But it should be done in the way I mentioned above. Like the captured soldier being interrogated - just repeat: name, rank and serial number (or in this case, the facts behind climate change).
But Policy is not the only way to address climate change meaningfully. As Elinor Ostrom has pointed out in her report to the World Bank, Polycentric Approaches to Climate Change, we should be looking for multiple solutions on multiple scales.
When I was doing my research on the controversy surround the Holcomb power plant, I talked to a lot of people in Western Kansas about issues like climate change. There were a couple of people who suggested to me that they believed that climate change is a fiction, but overall I got the sense that most people are aware of the science and at least somewhat concerned about the potential problems that could occur. They may not be fully convinced, but they are not generally climate deniers like the two on the EANTH list or those in the media. They want to do something about climate change, but, at the same time, they take a pragmatic view of it. They are concerned about their jobs, about their families, about their health. They want a better life for themselves and their children, and climate change simply isn't the most pressing issue in their lives.
On the plus side, we don't need to convince them either, we just have to sympathize with them and figure out workable solutions that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions, provide jobs and other economic benefits for them, and help build sustainable communities. This kind of grassroots effort could then develop into a broad-based support for national policy and international governance. This approach, I believe, will be far more successful than trying to convince all of the deniers and trying to craft national legislation or international policy that will satisfy everyone.

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