closedistances (closedistances) wrote in cmanthropology,

Crossing Academia's Communication Divide

In my last entry, I quoted a blogger to illustrate my point about how even online, the distinction can be made between information given and information given off (to borrow a term from Goffman). To my surprise, the blogger found my post and made a post of his own about it:

I was pleased to see my writing getting a read from someone who perhaps would not ordinarily read anthropological texts. Anthropologists are often unaccustomed to communicating with the general public online, as these examples demonstrate:
University professors in the United States are peculiar in the separation they make between theory and practice, between private and public careers, between their professional lives and their concerns as citizens. Pick any part of the world…and the picture is different because intellectuals qua intellectuals are expected to participate in large questions, they do so even if such activity lands them in prison. [Nader 2000: v]

…a member found and posted an article I had written to the list, and invited me to respond to a discussion of the article. This was an exciting and rather worrying opportunity for me. In the rarefied world of academe, we rarely find out what people actually think of our work, or indeed if anyone even reads it at all. How many academics have the chance to watch their work being discussed in a forum of people who are not fellow-scholars looking for validation of their own work, but who have an entirely different set of loyalties and interests? [Bird 2003: 54]

Some other members’ responses were more challenging, although not hostile. They explicitly called on me to explain and defend my research goals and methods… Defending my research to these educated locals was more of a challenge than any dissertation defense or peer review process I have experienced. [Constable 2003: 48]

Putting up academic webpages is certainly an important first step since it increases the availability of scholarly knowledge to the general public. However, I'm not sure of how often it will be found, read, understood, and put to use effectively by those who could benefit from it; indeed, the aforementioned quotes suggest that anthropological research is not usually done with these goals in mind, even when the research population is on the Internet.

I recently ran across an interesting example of a more proactive approach to presenting one's research online. George Lakoff, a linguistics professor, has presented his work on framing to the Democracy For America movement in the form of an exercise, a worksheet, and a DVD:

Is anyone familiar with any other examples of social scientists writing for an online group rather than just writing about them?

References Cited

Bird, S. Elizabeth
2003 The Audience in Everyday Life: Living in a Media World. New York and London: Routledge.

Constable, Nicole
2003 Romance on a Global Stage: Pen Pals, Virtual Ethnography, and "Mail Order" Marriages.

Nader, Laura
2000 Preface. In The Unity of Theory and Practice in Anthropology: Rebuilding a Fractured Synthesis. Carole E. Hill and Marietta L. Baba, eds. Napa bulletin 18.
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