We couldn’t continue to write about multimedia in relation to anthropology without a column on blogs, anthropologist bloggers, and the uses of this format in our discipline. Blogs take up an important part of our virtual life, and many of us have at least tried to use one, sometimes failing to keep it alive.
It is no surprise that anthropologists use blogs as a new way to reach the public, to expose their work and to discuss it. But which public is this? Which work is shared? And which kind of discussion, if any, is emerging?
First of all, there are several types of blogs.
- The “team blog,” where different anthropologists share a virtual space to expose their research, even in different fields of anthropology, or mixing disciplines. For example, Ethnography.com brings together consultants, PhD students, archeologists and anthropologists. Its recent post deals with subjects ranging from Higher Education expands worldwide, but contracts in California to Why I chose not to get a PhD.
- The “project blog,” where several people meet and focus on a shared interest. The blog is often created to support an association and to describe follow-up on a project. It serves as a public and open space to share an idea and to create debate. This is the case for Material World, run by five chief editors, centered on material and visual culture. Its aim is to “create a new international community of academics, students, curators, artists and anyone else with particular interest in material and visual culture.” This blog serves as a platform for sharing information about exhibition, reviewing, releasing books, etc. It also calls for direct participation in order to create an interactive space. Zero Anthropology can also be put in this category, as we can read in the blog that the space is devoted to a transformation of anthropology “into something that is neither Eurocentric nor elitist.” This decolonization project is inspired by the New World Movement, whose ideas are disseminated by the blog.
- The “journal blog.” Within this blogosphere, we can find blogs related directly to newspapers or journals as shown, of course, by the AAA Blog, or the RC21 in partnership with the International Journal of Urban and Regional Research. This kind of blog often serves as a platform for the diffusion of journals’ information and some inside views on the journals’ work. It is a more free, open, and fluid version of the journal, but with less content. It can also be a space for a university lab to express its latest research and thoughts.
- Finally, the “individual blog.” This type of blog is the enterprise of one person, or sometimes two anthropologists. Its purpose is to share information on the work being done at the moment, on the author and his or her personal opinion. It is moreover a direct spotlight on la petite cuisine (everything but the kitchen sink) in the field, on writing, or on life as an anthropologist. It permits a partial view of what a field notebook would look like, if made public. In Glossographia, for instance, the anthropologist Chrisomalis shares his work on language and tries to render his space accessible to non-academics and non-specialists. In A Primate of Modern Aspects, the author is a graduate student who is practicing her writing skills and willing to share her work. In Golublog, Alex Golub, an assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Hawai’I, shares his own work, articles, and bibliography.
What do all those blogs have in common? First of all, the blog itself paves the way for a different relationship with the reader than anthropologists have been used to. Readers can—and are expected—to reply, ask questions, and begin debates. The participatory process is a key component of blogs. Multimedia therefore questions the very vertical relation that seems to be common in academia. As Chrisomalis writes, academic blogs can be seen as a “modern, egalitarian equivalent of literary salons- the sort of place where like-minded (and not-so-like minded) people, regardless of status or profession, can talk about ideas informally and get to meet one another.” They can serve a more political purpose, as Zero Anthropology does, through the possibility of opening the debates to various localities and transcending academic frontiers and barriers. By using blogs, are anthropologists carried on a wind of freedom? Isn’t this the fantasy of Internet and multimedia anyway? More should be known about the users, and their reasons for visiting these websites.
In the same vein, the openness of blogs allows every anthropologist to publish his or her own work for a larger audience. For instance, the Open Access Anthropology Blog—which serves the organization by the same name—is devoted to open access alternatives to anthropological publications. It promotes freely accessible publications. In this domain, such blogs serve as a substitute for a journal, perhaps without its heavy process of selections and the huge machine behind it. However, in a case like Material World, the blog itself is constructed in a way similar to that of a journal, with its chief editors, its editors, and its publication rules. In this case, is the blog loosing its free spirit, its limitless possibility of publication, and its occasional cacophony? At another extreme, blogs can serve as a form of self-promotion and self-projection of the image the anthropologist wishes to convey in the field.
Blogs can also be an extended way of sharing experiences. For instance, the Teaching Anthropology blog is constructed as a space in which to share lessons from teaching anthropology at the undergraduate level, and to provide some tips as well as some inner thoughts.
In sum, anthropologists’ blogs can be likened to either fieldnotes or a form similar to editorials. What we have here might be a written demonstration of anthropological thought put to the test of the vagaries of everyday life. Such an intrusion of anthropologists into the Internet makes us wonder when and how the multimedia (i.e. audio and video) will be included in anthropological exchanges of their experiences on the World Wide Web.
Martin Lamotte and Nathalie Boucher are anthropologists affiliated with the multimedia research lab in urban studies called Villes et Espaces Politiques (VESPA) at the National Institute of Scientific Research – Urbanisation Culture Society (INRS-UCS) in Montreal (Quebec). Currently based in Montreal, Nathalie draws from her research on public spaces in Los Angeles and urban fragmentation in Nicaragua to teach methodologies at the University of Ottawa. Between the South Bronx, New York and Gugulethu, Cape Town, Martin includes new technologies in his research methodology, such as video camera for in-depth interviews and GPS for drawing mental maps of neighborhoods. When the Internet connection allows it, Nathalie and Martin use Skype 5.5.
First of all, the blog itself paves the way for a different relationship with the reader than anthropologists have been used to. Readers can—and are expected—to reply, ask questions, and begin debates. The participatory process is a key component of blogs. Multimedia therefore questions the very vertical relation that seems to be common in academia. As Chrisomalis writes, academic blogs can be seen as a “modern, egalitarian equivalent of literary salons- the sort of place where like-minded (and not-so-like minded) people, regardless of status or profession, can talk about ideas informally and get to meet one another.” They can serve a more political purpose, as Zero Anthropology does, through the possibility of opening the debates to various localities and transcending academic frontiers and barriers.