John McCreery's Blog (129)

Is this a book we should read and discuss?

Over on Dead Voles, Carl points us to a discussion on another site called "The Long Eighteenth Century." There the topic being discussed is Simon Gikandi’s Slavery and the Culture of Taste, a book that argues that the eighteenth century's obsession with creating a refined, autonomous, rational self was rooted in its opposite, the crude, submissive, sensuous other, the black African slave, whose labor also provided the wealth on which upper class bourgeois…


Added by John McCreery on June 1, 2013 at 2:41pm — No Comments

The Academy as Guild

Reading the following on Dead Voles, I couldn't help recalling Keith Hart's frequent references to the guild structure of academia.

More on conditions of work: guilds and industrial revolutions


As the last major profession organized on the medieval guild model (masters, journeymen, apprentices), academia is now going through an Industrial Revolution of its own. In the 17th-18th century, the…


Added by John McCreery on May 31, 2013 at 6:02am — 2 Comments

An anthropologist in all but name?

Reading this review of a new book about the "anti-utopian reformer with keen eye for detail" Albert Hirschman, I found myself thinking of OAC founder Keith Hart. I wonder what Hart will think of being seen as resembling Hirschman, in a complimentary way.

Added by John McCreery on May 8, 2013 at 4:16am — 1 Comment

You've heard about modeling, sounds interesting, but you aren't a programming Ninja

Help is at hand. Check out Gene Bellinger's Insight Maker. It's Web-based, it's free, you can play with it by yourself or with friends or colleagues.Think of it as a mind map where the pieces interact.If you are a programming Ninja, you may find the models too simple. But it's plenty sophisticated enough to provide instructive entertainment for the rest of us. 

Added by John McCreery on April 10, 2013 at 8:44am — No Comments

Life after the Ph.D.

With a tip of the hat to Ryan Anderson, who posted the following on Savage Minds.

Check out this interview with Sarah Kendzior about life after the PhD. A lot to think about. And a lot that many people do not want to talk about. Here’s my favorite quote: What I realized during my year on the job market is that having a traditional academic career is not as important to…


Added by John McCreery on April 9, 2013 at 7:42am — No Comments

Can we think productively about memes?

A tweet from Biella Coleman, led me to Limor Shifman, Memes in a Digital World: Reconciling with a Conceptual Troublemaker.  I must say that I like the way Shifman thinks, asking how we could sort this [memes] out in a useful way. Instead, that is, haggling over definitions and why memes aren't genes (no, duh).

Added by John McCreery on April 7, 2013 at 9:58am — 3 Comments

Joi Ito's Nine Principles

Just stumbled across these thoughts from Joi Ito, Director of the MIT Media Lab, on Boing-Boing.

There are nine or so principles to work in a world like this:

1. Resilience instead of strength, which means you want to yield and allow failure and you bounce back instead of trying to resist failure.

2. You pull instead of push. That means you pull the resources from the…


Added by John McCreery on March 12, 2013 at 11:30am — 4 Comments

You are tomorrow's anthropology

Reviewing my recent contributions to Savage Minds and OAC, I see myself writing about anthropology in an increasingly severe and critical tone. As I reflect on where that tone is coming from a phrase pops into my head: disciplinary involution. The words are a twist on Clifford Geertz's  "Agricultural Involution," the title of a book in which he describes the economic plight of Javanese peasants who, as part of a growing population, cultivate smaller and smaller fields with increasing…


Added by John McCreery on March 4, 2013 at 6:30am — 12 Comments

Get used to it. Anthropology will never be politically effective.

Let's face it. For all of the intense moralizing and half-baked political commentary that now passes for anthropological "theory," when it comes to political action anthropologists suck.

Why aren't we outraged? Why aren't we....? We see these questions online every bloody day. Have they made any difference? The evidence is thin, likely non-existent, and that's not surprising.

Outrage is an industry. There is so much of it online that another ranting voice is unlikely to be…


Added by John McCreery on February 22, 2013 at 4:00am — 9 Comments

A New Project

I have just begun a new translation/writing project that may be of particular interest to people with an interest in Japan or Japanese advertising. It involves translating a little red book by one of Japan's most distinguished copywriters. Should you be interested, you can find the project here. 

Added by John McCreery on February 16, 2013 at 8:43am — 4 Comments

Speaking of Language

An important thought, attributed to one of my favorite philosophers, Stanley Cavell.

Language, to Cavell, is ambiguous not because it is imperfect, awaiting precise definition, but because we do not all see in the same way; it is a reflection of our basic predicament as distinct human beings. Thus, we must dare to mean what we say, take responsibility for all the meanings our words might be taken to have—even if those meanings go beyond what we understand as our…


Added by John McCreery on February 14, 2013 at 9:13am — 3 Comments

Does consanguinity [endogamy] inhibit democracy?

Could it be that close kin ties produced by endogamy inhibit democracy? Some evidence points in that direction. From a network analysis perspective, I would add the suggestion that the association of democracy with individualism points to the importance of weak [out-group], as opposed to strong [in-group] ties. I note, too, that I once heard it asserted that parallel cousin marriage is common in Southwest Asia, a.k.a., the Middle East. Could kin ties be a factor in the difficulty of creating…


Added by John McCreery on January 23, 2013 at 3:47am — 2 Comments

A time and a life

In many of our discussions we see the meme that describes anthropology as a tool of first imperialism and then globalization. We now have an opportunity to reflect on the experience of those who entered the field and participated in U.S. government-funded research and outreach programs in the 1950s and 60s. Forwarded from EASIANTH:



Robert Textor, one of the first anthropologists to carry out…


Added by John McCreery on January 21, 2013 at 3:30am — No Comments

Ethnographic Data Mining

From the online Journal of Social Structure

ABSTRACT: Advances in text analysis, particularly the ability to extract network based information from texts, is enabling researches to conduct detailed socio-cultural ethnographies rapidly by retrieving characteristic descriptions from texts and fusing the results from varied sources. We describe this process and illustrate it…


Added by John McCreery on January 12, 2013 at 6:58am — No Comments

The Greenwall Report: What sorts of considerations might anthropologists bring to this table?

The Greenwall Report  (click here for PDF) is titled Enhanced Warfighters: Risk, Ethics, and Policy. It addresses ethical and policy issues arising from military-supported research and development programs designed to enhance the physical and cognitive performance of soldiers using mechanical, chemical or biological means. Much of the discussion is devoted to the concept of "enhancement" and how it differs…


Added by John McCreery on January 2, 2013 at 11:14am — 1 Comment

No Exit?

The Economist's obituary for Alfred Hirschman attributes to Hirschman the idea that systems from which the disgruntled can exit can achieve a perverse stability, in which those capable of revolution leave the scene and leave those less capable at the mercy of the incompetent and corrupt. I find myself thinking about those of us with the…


Added by John McCreery on December 24, 2012 at 6:59am — No Comments

Arturo Escobar

My browsing brought me today to this article in the Guardian about Colombian thinker Arturo Escobar. Has anyone hear heard of him? Or referred to his work? I'd particularly like to hear Keith Hart and David Graeber's take on him.

Added by John McCreery on December 20, 2012 at 3:33am — 2 Comments

Video, ethnography, commercial applications

While browsing the Web, I came across a paper titled Real Environments—Video Ethnography for True Understanding by Kunal Sinha and Prashant Ramachandran. The authors, both Indian, work for Ogilvy and Mather in China and Singapore. An interesting mixture of ethnographic detail, video analysis, and cultural stereotypes (India v China). If you are interested in the uses of video and…


Added by John McCreery on November 30, 2012 at 5:56am — 9 Comments

Are you a multifaceted millennial?

This question is directed at the younger members of OAC. It is stimulated by stumbling across a piece that Grant McCracken wrote for Harvard Business Review and announced back in October. The title is


The first three paragraphs…


Added by John McCreery on November 24, 2012 at 11:33am — 1 Comment

Lessons for anthropology from the U.S. elections

The interpreters (the pundits) were all over the place. The nerds (statisticians like Nate Silver and Sam Wang) came through with amazingly accurate predictions. Nate Silver's new The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail—but Some Don't should be on everyone's reading list. 

Added by John McCreery on November 7, 2012 at 11:02am — 4 Comments


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