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 -

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