Getting Digital at the #AAA2012 Meetings
It is three weeks later and I am still reveling in the undeniable insanity that was the American Anthropological Association (AAA) meetings in San Francisco, CA. As chair of the Alcohol, Drugs and Tobacco Study Group (ADTSG) and organizer of three panels, my conference schedule was packed. But in the midst of all the chaos, I kept my CHI mission in mind: to assess the state of “digital anthropology” within our professional organization. The following highlights just a few of the things I found surprising, encouraging, and definitely worth blogging about.
The benefits of academic tweeting!
If you were following the #AAA2012 hashtag on twitter during the month of November, you probably already know that I took full advantage of this platform to connect with fellow anthropologists and shamelessly promote my special interest group (#ADTSG). Before the AAAs, I probably tweeted once or twice a day, sharing links to articles that were relevant to my research interests – and only had about 50 followers (which I thought was pretty good). But during the meetings, I decided to go full throttle and live tweet with reminders for my panels, updates about ADTSG, and my various encounters with anthropologists who shared a passion for digital anthropology including Joe Dumit, Eugene Raikhel, Greg Downey, Daniel Lende, Jason Antrosio, Lance Gravlee (and many more!) I also attended my first tweet up at Johnny Foley’s Irish pub with former CHI fellow, Fayana Richards where we mingled with fellow scholars, many of whose blogs we already read and tweets we already followed. As a result of my efforts, my own followers literally doubled in a week’s time. This proved to me something that our mentor, Ethan Watrall has been telling me for years: crafting an academic online identity and network is a proactive process. And with a bit of effort and attention to detail, social media can be powerful platform for intellectual dialogue and professional growth.
The first ever meeting of the Digital Anthropology Group (DANG) was held on Friday afternoon and had a fantastic turnout. Unfortunately it was scheduled for the same time as the ADTSG meeting so I couldn’t attend (such is the curse of professional meetings!) However, I did get a chance to catch up with Daniel Lende later that day at the Neuroanthropology booth who filled me on their unconventional but effective methods of defining exactly was the mission of this group should be. This included the incorporation of several broad categories including Cyberstudies, Teaching, Research Tools/Methods, Open Access, Public Anthropology, and Professional Interactions/Blogging. For a complete overview of this meeting and to get more involved in this group check out “Quick recap of the first DANG meeting held in the history of humanity”.
A sustainable open-source option!
While DANG targets people who already have an interest in digital anthropology, I was happy to find some of these issues being promoted to the broader organization. At the Society for Medical Anthropology (SMA) business meeting on Friday night, we welcomed our new Medical Anthropology Quarterly (MAQ) editor, Lance Gravlee, who had some very important comments about the future of and the potential for a sustainable open source platform for the SMA’s flagship publication. As a scholar who understands the importance and inevitability of this change, he encouraged SMA members to get educated about the important discussion going on in the larger AAA about this issue. Lance was kind enough to share his forthcoming editorial for MAQ with me where he explains that although a sustainable open-source MAQ might not happen during his term as editor “the work to enable an open-source future starts now”. For more on how the AAA is approaching these issues, check out the AAA’s publications FAQs and The state of the AAA’s publishing program, as well as these blog posts from Savage Minds “Should you pay for open access?” and Neuroanthropology “AAA changes opposition to open access”.
On Saturday, I rushed out of my own session on “Drug Ab/Use” and headed over to the panel “Sharing anthropology: Theorizing anthropological research in the age of social media”. I opened the door to catch the end of the first presenter, Sam Collins, and the room was literally jam packed with at least 6 people huddled in the doorway. Clearly the room fit for 20 wasn’t nearly enough to accommodate the 50+ people who were interested in this group of papers. While Colleen Morgan loaded her power point, myself and several others settled onto the floor (check out her instagram pic of the crowd here). Over the next two hours, I listened intently as each presenter shared stories of simultaneous success and disappointment, clarity and confusion, in their individual attempts to make anthropological work available to the public. Colleen Morgan highlighted the importance of integrating digital sharing into all aspects of archeological work but asks: how can we make the mental space to think about the digital while we are digging in the trenches? In his satirical approach to open access, Ryan Anderson challenged the old adage “publish or perish” and points out that most of us are doing both while we are swimming [or drowning] alone in our own academic waters. Instead, challenged us to incorporate digital skills into our anthropological curriculums and drop the academese that sequesters our work from the public – as he puts it, we are good at making our work boring. Barbara J. King, writer for NPR’s blog 13.7 Cosmos & Culture, offered her model of the “unafraid blogger” who knows that there is no such thing as a “finished blog post” and has the insights to embrace public criticism as a form of knowledge co-creation. Matt Durington tackled the “digital divide” in low income communities in this joint project “Anthropology by the Wire” which allowed college students to produce video ethnographies of local Baltimore residents which would preserve the authenticity and sincerity of the ethnographic encounter. Jane Henrici discussed the importance and challenges of responsible tweeting through stories from her own field work, including the frustration of trying to share important information about Hurricane Sandy relief efforts though a platform that clearly would not reach its intended audience in time. Finally, Jason Antrosio announced that “the world is ready for culture!” and reminded us through a creative linguistic exercise that anthropology already offers a number of classical (and useful) models for understanding the value of “sharing” (or not sharing).
A digital future!
I wasn’t able to attend even a fraction of all the digitally-centered panels and presentations but you can read Matt Thompson’s summary here on the Neuroanthropology blog. Seeing as I have clearly exceeded the 500 word limit, I end this with post a refreshed optimism for the future of digital anthropology in our professional society. With so many amazing scholars pushing the issue (the ranks of which I hope to join), I am excited to see what #AAA2013 has in store.