Saturday, September 26, 2015

Anthropological Thinking about My Own Methodology

If the work of Frans Boas is still considered preservationist the idea is that it would describe something theoretically static before it disappears.

There is good reason for that fear. The Settler Project was ongoing and the South was beginning to win the peace during restoration. "record it before white european expansion kills or assimilates it" and not be completely sure what you're saving makes sense. But then there is the reality of what that work did.

  • It preserved lines of thought and activist argument agains those thoughts of white academia/society
  • It recorded (by accident?) the impacts of cross cultural exchange and asymmetric power systems
  • It created (a fractured) place for those communities to go back to when they stubbornly survived in the face of active physical and cultural genocide thus allowing them to "read back" and reclaim their languages and their spiritual practices
  •            - It also created the problem of making those initial reclaiming something interrupted instead of living practice that would have grown and changed over time. 
  • It "preserved" image, practice and interpreted thought and played into ideas of "authenticity" 
  • It upholds the destruction of sovereignty of occupied cultures by allowing for the idea that the "one drop rule" can be applied to First Nations and Native American groups for "recognition and membership" that is fully determined only by their occupiers. 
  • It created a reality where many of those groups have adopted that criteria to protect themselves reifying the social construct of race where there were government-states-cultures before. 
What I think about and care about is cultures of activity - with the idea that these cultures are specifically joined positions of choice. The work that I need to do looks more like the work of Boas and Malinowski - initially descriptive. Thus preservationist. 

But I am a designer/project manager/ops director/incipient anthropologist- and that work doesn't look like "preservation" to my eyes or in the context of the work that is later built on it or it's long term effects. It looks like "baseline" and then  becomes the thing against which you CAN track change, or do needs assessments, or enter into conversation cross culturally - the commonalities that underpin "evolution" theories in 19th century anthropology are less artifacts of universal cognition generation culture to me than point of commonality that would allow different culture to have moments of shared cognition and therefore possibly "equalized" communication. 

So the methodology I want is baseline with the knowledge that it is an artifact of sharing and change as opposed to an artifact of preservation. 

Like Boas but ASSUMING dialogue and change - and since it will be longitudinal recording change as it happens during the study.

There are small study/documents like that in my previous working spaces - when I was a stage manager that was what the "God Book" was, When I was a designer that's what the style book could be (some places treat it as a living document - others as a final baseline to control output), when I was a project manager I kept a project book that in retrospect was just a highly structured God Book.

The thing all those documents ( though smaller in scale/scope/purpose) have in common is that they are all looked at as beginnings not ends, and checkpoints - so controls not static points preservation. They were living documents that record their "changes from".

Multiple people contribute to them - they were always meant to be multi-use by the community of humans using them - they were (and I suppose in anthropology this is the part that needs serious ethical thought) sharable centralizing artifacts.

They are accessible to outsiders, audits and reviews even though the high-use group will have and see things in them that outsiders will not. They are written for multiple simultaneous audience.

If I treat my target cultures of activity like Boas and Malinowski what would a similar document I create at the end be called if its considered an act of beginning instead of a capstone of ending?

 - and at this point we need to be real about what I care about:

Workspaces - mostly focused on Tech/Science,
Communities of "leisure" until I come up with a better definition, and communities of
Performance ( Dance - Ballet specifically & Theater as an Insider)
Human Interaction ( Computer-Human Interaction specifically)

And I need to be real about why I care about them:

Based on the work of
Joseph Henrich
Department of Psychology and Department of Economics, University of British
Columbia, Vancouver V6T 1Z4, Canada!henrich/home.html

Steven J. Heine
Department of Psychology, University of British Columbia, Vancouver
V6T 1Z4, Canada

Ara Norenzayan
Department of Psychology, University of British Columbia, Vancouver
V6T 1Z4, Canada

I believe that we are indicating that culture creates cognition in a physical way - which means for WEIRD ( Western Educated Industrialized Rich Democratic) cultures that are incorporating computers into everyday use are creating not just Ubiquitous Computing  a concept developed by Genevieve Bell and Paul Dourish but circumstances where we could look at "Computers as Environment".

If things being thought about in those two works are working the way I think they are when you look at the mythology around the tech industry and it's application to who they think is doing work, how that work is presented, and then who is actually constructing the ubiquitous computing that becomes transparent to the user becomes very important - culture creates cognition, designers and tech workers are acculturated - computing is ubiquitous to the point interface is unthinking/invisible "natural" transparent- the things they make will reify cultural factors in a literal/physical sense - those programmers will literally create the cognitive environment - most of them will not be thinking about it. They are not all "young disruptive wizards" they are workers - their identity will not be engaged in the space where they are "thinking about" some of these things unless thinking about these things becomes a part of the culture.

( *thank you Volkswagen for giving me a quickly grokable example of why you are operating a mobile computer and not "driving a car").

But to know what they ARE thinking about and how it affects things you have to know what that culture is now, and the history of how it got that way and how it affects the cultural realities and Durkheiman social facts it creates and that it is created by. AND THEN you have to look at how it was changing while you were looking - and record it while all the ops managers are trying to use culture as commodity and "change or manipulate culutre" in their environments.

I have not read an ethnography where I didn't see that it was actually recording change instead of "preserving" things considered "authentic" regardless of the intent or positionality of the author or cultural group.

I have very specific questions I want to ask about the activity of tech as creators and users and I thought I would learn this thing I think of as "Baseline Study" in undergrad and then future research would be answering those questions.

I still have those questions and now I have a better understanding of why there isn't this kind of methodology I'm thinking of but I haven't shaken needing it and needing it to be sharable across stakeholders - and many of the stakeholders wouldn't be academics.

And that leaves me where I am - I want to run longitudinal cultural studies on cultures of activity, I want them to look a lot like Boasian preservationist studies, but they won't be preservationist or activist so I need to figure out what they are instead.

My Independent Study discussion group right now labels anything where my project management background colors my discussion of theory of methodology "Adrienneist" until I narrow it down.

It's a dialogue really or maybe more of a methodological cocktail party -

Friday, September 25, 2015

Play Entry 4

This article claims "play" but none of the activities described are play except the "play parachute" which sounds like a structured activity with rules and songs.

Are the children and seniors allowed to "Just Play" would anyone consider just leaving them in the room together for four hours and sit at the sides to see what would happened.

This is mediated contact with seven or eight goals that sound like they were there to get funding.

There is nothing wrong with this but the question becomes why is it even considered to be used in the context of "play"

Who are they using that word for - what work is it doing by disguising the fact that it is fixing broken social systems under a number of "acceptable" goals

"Seniors and children at play: Homeschooling program mends the generation gap"

They are not at play - they are in supervised educational and health environments with all their actions serving either the goals of the state or correction of the collateral damage by the culture. 

Is it only "play" because children are involved and not being evaluated and scored? 

Play Entry 3

Yesterday we watched Margret Mead's Balinese trance dancers and the class ( which was a theory class)was asked to react.

The distress of trance dancers in the context of words provided by Margaret Mead is out in relation to the fact that this is a performance, and complicated further by the reality that it is a commissioned performance. It is a ritual "play" and it took one of the students some work to realize that her assumptions about reality or unreality of Performance vs Ritual were actually western constructs she was applying to something she viewed to sort out her feelings about the film.

Here is a thing - she immediately discounted her initial reaction as "not useful" and I was thrilled that the prof gently led the discussion back to not discounting the "usefulness" of your own reactions and process.

Things don't automatically hit binaries of useful/useless.

My own reaction was this - Here is a merging of states and play interaction - the men have western appearing haircuts and facial hair for this dance. It is in 1939 The Dutch have been there since 1908 - it makes me wonder about the interplay of local/cultural at that time.

There is that word "inter-play"

This is an article on the Mead's use of visual anthropology and some of the questions that arise from it

But here is the thing I am thinking - the form of "ritual" or dance being filmed was actually created within two years of it being filmed. The presence of female dancers was recent and new - treating it as a current-to-itself performance within its own cultural context is not out of the question- it had to be developed, practiced, given meaning, and ultimately performed.

There is the work of it - but the words performance/calling it a "play" move some western viewers into a space where they have to think of it as equivalent to "fake" or "unreal" or "inauthentic"

The modern viewer associates though acculturation the idea ( made stronger through style, technology and time displacement) that they are watching an "inauthentic" (whatever that means) version of an older cultural artifact when I think what they might be watching is a HIGHLY "authentic" cultural product of experimentation and exploration of ritual space and cultural relation with the anthropologists.

No one calls an opera "inauthentic" because it happens to be an opera. But operas are not considered "plays" and no one uses "play language" when discussing them. So unreality gets handled differently with opera

what about hyper-reality - could opera and video games have more in common than video games and "play" ?

Also I'm going to come back to this

and a conversation about block printing vs cursive and concepts of "being an adult"

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Play Entry 2 - after religious observance.

Today was my observance of Yom Kipper - during the day there were no references to play but that is because my current method of addressing the religious/spiritual requirements is solitary and I only participate in group prayer at the end.

One of the things that struck me was play in it's absence individually and then watching children who had been caught in 24 hours of deep adult engagement with organinzations/kinship and spirituality interact.

Their play was mostly physical spinning and kicking and making games that led to more and more uncoordinated movements. We don't drive and they had to walk home - the words of one child to the mother were extremely oppositional but there was a sense of play and also a sense of using play for "cover" to paste over an existing dynamic and power struggle. Another child used no words but kept the extreme hyper physicality and lack of coordination while also consistently doing the opposite of what was being asked.

They were in things coded play but they experienced no release. The adults had fasted 24 hours and experienced many complicated social interactions and will most likely be reacting inside their own family expectations and psychodynamics but I am left with the observation:

The physicality of the child created play absorbed energy from the adults who had strained theirs through ritual and personal acts during the day. The energy used in their play was reciprocal and generative of more energy - it still coded as "play" when the interaction stopped being something I would have defined as play or "playful" and the reason was the child knew they were inverting the power dynamic - I was the only non-family member present in the room - there was still an element of performance and challenging my authority as an adult - it was not play - play was hastily added on at the end but it was performance based on observing my reaction. It was a tactic.

But there is tactical play.

I need to think about this.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Play Entry 1

The journaling thing is interesting because  it's going to force me to think in my own terms of play and work and why I am here at all.

One of the things about the Myers-Briggs system is that I was introduced to it by outsider business people - I mention them because they are like outsider artists and they interact with tools business while holding themselves outside it.

The Fantek organization was heavily devoted to play when all forms of play were considered things to be put aside. The 80's to me in retrospect looks like what happens when people make a number of huge mistakes in college and then spend the rest of their lives pretending that never happened.

It coincides for me with my move from city to suburb. Suburbs do not actually have spaces for play because their children don't leave unsupervised - I used to try to go to the park but there were never any kids there- the teens that would show up at dusk and be chased away by dark would be involved in something considered "loitering" but for them might be considered play.

So that's a thing - there'll be more of this here. My other independent study is an auto-ethnography - we started scoping it out yesterday and the focus is on interaction with computer science - but all of that  work is buried under or made of play.

I worked on fringes of "real jobs" in unreal spaces or had real jobs in fringe spaces before I moved into things that are more easily read - this brings us back to Myers Briggs,

The various places that engage with it treated it like children treat games not like businesses use game. It was a code, a secret that could help people say "the right thing" if they could figure out which type the other person was. It was before autism gave a name to many participants of outsider cultures in arts and science. They were proud of their letters and when getting you to interact with it made them appealing using playful means.

My original test brought me to ENFP - and the joke was that all the successful ENFPs ended up being charismatic dictators - but the other currency was rarity - just like in my collectible card game field work.

The primacy of "T" was very high in this supposed space of "fun" in science fiction convention organization.  "F" was called out for being powerful and discussed as being culturally dominant but it was patently untrue in practice - however "f" plus "t"tendencies was a prized combo. This is because it meant someone might be able to talk to both sides.

That environment used Myers Briggs like a language - theoretically that space was dedicated to the creation and consumption of fantasy. In practice it reified primacy of quantification and engineering but it was poor, aspirational and composed of a strong line of Appalachian families that had suburbanized looking for survival and work. Science fiction was not an "escape" but an actual building of a home culture.

Different thought
"Actors are people who were so good at playing Pretend when they were kids, they went Pro" - David White - Acting Prof at Montco.

I was an actor first- I miss the work of it so hard that every time I go back to touch it intentionally it hurts like I've been punched - this is not "play" but the product "puts on a a play".

During the class last week one of our business minded classmates was going over a definition that she disagreed with only one word which was "fantasy" - "I'm very reality based" it was automated - we are at a school that interacts with it's resemblance to a fantasy novel in very direct ways.

Discussion during a different meeting environment discussion the culture of a dorm. "Its where LARPing is going to happen on the lawns which is great if Live Action Role-playing is your thing but if you were looking to be in a pro-social space it will be disruptive to the pro-social person and the culture of that space"

The assumption there is that the culture that creates LARPs is different and not-pro social compared to the dorm with the reputation for a culture that puts primacy on queerness and parties. Parties in this case would include dance/drink/romantic opportunity. LARPS are play - the speaker doesn't LARP.

In that construction play isn't pro-social.

I am playing with my class construction like lego blocks in my publisher's house.

We throw teas - I am the anthro senior rep - the teas involve an element of play through theme - they are a recruitment tool - I am trained for throwing out ideas quickly - "most of the time between anthro and Halloween we end up with things involving skeletons," she said, indicating that she has saved items to be reused over the years

Me: "We could do Victorian Skeleton Tea parties and honor both the cultural and the physical"

Her: "I'm not sure how you could pull that off" but I can supplement that from my closet at home: temporally based transient events with food are my medium for outsider art - this is easy and it is "play" where I take and expected thing and "play with it" until it becomes a thing that entertains others and meets a goal/need but also entertains me.

Because of Myers Briggs and Quiet ( which I continue to find problematic) I am thinking about where my energy is coming from - writing in a way in which is thinking is happening at odd inconvienient times (4 am on the train before my stop) - small groups and conversations are happening which are energizing, but the recharging is happening, not just alone, but not often enough. However "energy generation" is happening when I interact with someone's structure and work to alter it into something else that is where the amusement is happening - that is where the self part is happening and that is where the "joy" is that is play. It happened in a meeting too - there is too much aspect of the trickster (cultural anthropological category)  in all of my interactions with systems - the trickster builds things and needed a category because it also destroy and white male western culture didn't have a corollary so they built one.

It was the Anthropology of tricksters class that "grounded" me in UN-grounding me and freed me to be able to do my work without apologizing for being a person outside the margins. Or even being a person here.

Is the Trickster play? Is my own play only "joyful" when I get to "play" with other peoples rules to make them do things they weren't built for? or maybe they were built for them and the "play" is to get them back to what their designer wanted instead of how they warped.

I'm playing when I look at a rule, every rule - rules are toys - even my own.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Announcement of Play

I need to keep a play Journal - its things I'm thinking about play and encountering things with play. I'm not sure if I'm going to keep it here or not but I need something "not-facebook" and this is the my dreamtime where I started to experiment with who I used to be so its here for now.

Here is the thing I am thinking about play today. I read an ethnographic study where the reason we are reading it is about multi-site structures and how they challenge the idea of distance: where distance substitutes for objectivity, and objectivity substitutes for seriousness. We constantly need to construct seriousness, and to do that we define things as un-serious.

Then we need to code play.

Introversion is not valued in men, but behaviors associated with positive extroversion in men are coded as undesirable in women. However performances of "fun" are all associated with extroversion in vacation/leisure spaces.

What is the play vs fun divide in our culture?

Is is part of colonialism? - several African cultures put a different premium on fun/jokes/lesiure. The ethnography I read has the women separating their homes from areas of "play."Play is moved from the view of men returning home.

Comedians in the west (or at least the US) seem to put a premium on the hyper masculine act of oral performance - even the construction of the term "Stand Up" seems to carry some cultural weight behind it, inherently making it political - simply because it is geared around laughter. Is it "fun" or is it protest, or comment, or critique, or making some other form of conflict relief valve.

Is comedy a social control by which those caught in the system can be recognized as "being seen" - (like "Oh look I'm not the only one who sees the thing - now I can go back into the thing even though its killing me/us and at least know I'm seen "- but the person on the stage is powerless so other than validation all they can do is observe)

Why is observation passive?

Listening is considered "active" now in business circles - observation is "active" when you are a trained actor. Observation is not taught to budding anthropologists- the way you learn observation is through playing-

Are only things "unreal" play, and because we discounted the unreal as we move towards rationalism as the new form of white (western) supremacy and social control things that ARE experientially real then have to be coded as meaningless to make them unreal and therefore play?