Re: industry finger up the academic wazoo

William Loker (wloker@FACULTYPO.CSUCHICO.EDU)
Fri, 18 Oct 1996 10:04:00 PDT

The similarities of anthropology to journalism are striking. In many
ways, anthropology is "slow motion" journalism. What journalism has to
get "quick and dirty" for the morning edition or the 6 o'clock news, we
take a year in the field to produce. And given the totemic and titanic
importance of deadlines to journalists, this is a striking difference in
the cultures of the two professions.

On a slightly unrelated topic, did anyone see the comment by reporter
Boyce Rensberger of the Washington Post in the latest AN ("Projecting
Points" column) in which he states that reporters don't consult
anthropologists much because, "anthropology is still so riven with rival
'schools of thought' that it is ... possible to find well-credentialed
anthropologists to dispute anything said by any other well-creditialed
anthropologist. This gives the impression that anthropology hasn't got
its act together or isn't a mature science." He continues, "It doesn't
seem that anthropology can point to a large body of knowledge that
explains a lot about human beings and is solidly accepted by most

What say ye, fellow anthropologists? Is Rensberger correct? Does, say,
cultural anthropology have a large body of relatively widely accepted

Flame away (at Rensberger, not me!)

Bill Loker

From: owner-anthro-l[SMTP:owner-anthro-l@UBVM.CC.BUFFALO.EDU]
Sent: Saturday, October 19, 1996 12:45 AM
To: Multiple recipients of list ANTHRO-L
Subject: Re: industry finger up the academic wazoo

>My own view is that anthropologists should not only be able to provide
>readers with detailed portraits of what life is *really* like in
>kinds of American communities -- rich, middling and, poor ones -- they
>also be able to set the American experience with prosperity and poverty
in a
>world perspective. For more of the latter to happen, however, bridges
>need to be built between the kind of work now being done by
>writers like Paul Kennedy (_Preparing for the Twenty-First Century_
1993) and
>Robert D. Kaplan (_The Ends of the Earth: A Journey at the Dawn of the
>Century 1996), by social commentators and critics as diverse as Michael
>Felix Rohatyn, and Charles Sykes (_A Nation of Victims: The Decay of the
>American Character_ 1992), and by anthropologists like Nancy
>and Phillipe Bourgois. To top it off, this new anthropology will need
>have the readability and elegance of an Oscar Lewis work. Right now, I
>see this kind of thing happening. If anyone else has, please let me

Here is a vision enormously worth pursuing. Scanning the book ads in
issues of The New York Review of Books, the American side now seems to be
mainly the business of investigative reporters. Isn't the core issue how
do what they do, but also do it better, by getting in that "world
perspective" that Mike is talking about?

For research purposes of my own, I am now reading _Tokyo: A Spatial
Anthropology_ by Jinnai Hidenobu (U. California Press, 1995). It reminds
of how much might be done, by archeologists as well as cultural
anthropologists, by starting with the spaces in which people live. I'd
like to get some visual anthropologists involved. What would we find, for
example, in comparing detailed visual records of slums, middle-class, and
elite dwellings in, say, Tokyo, Shanghai, Calcutta, Cairo, Athens, Paris,
London, New York, Mexico City....Real gritty, material stuff like how
of what kind of objects are visible and taking up what kinds of space and
what all this says about commonalities and regional differences in
of poverty, modest affluence and wealth?

Then I remember where I've just seen this kind of thing. A marketing
colleague at Hakuhodo has written a piece about the use of visual images
a study of university student lifestyles in China (20 men and 20 women,
forty per city in each of 10 cities, 8 in the PRC, plus Taipei and Hong
Kong; total n=400. Interesting process. The students were provided with
36-shot disposable cameras and asked to photograph themselves, family,
friends, where they lived, play, and work. Then they were asked to draw
illustrations of ideal places to work, ideal homes (exterior and
ideal families. For each photo or illustration they were also asked to
down what they'd included and why. The resulting data set includes 12,000
photos and 3,000 drawings and lots of text. An interesting question is
an anthropologist would do with this kind of data that a market
might not think of? Would the anthropologist's interpretations be deeper,
better informed, more useful to those with either academic or material
interests in predicting future directions in consumer culture? What would
our added value be?

Thanks, Mike, for stirring this up.

John McCreery
3-206 Mitsusawa HT, 25-2 Miyagaya, Nishi-ku
Yokohama 220, JAPAN

"And the Lord said unto Cyrus, 'Shall the clay say to him who moldest it,
what makest thou? Let the potsherd of the earth speak to the potsherd of
the earth." --An anthropologist's credo