How to blog like an anthropologist
Blogging about blogging is a self absorbed activity and normally I avoid it. But there is, I think, a substantial opportunity that has not yet been well explored.
Blogs are a great medium for the anthropological study of our culture. This is especially so because anthropologists themselves have not used the conventional media of books and articles.
Certainly, there has been a little work on the topic of contemporary culture. Lloyd Warner did a magnificent study of Yankee City (Newburyport, MA, I think) and Evon Vogt did a little study of a tiny town in Texas (see post below).
But the most of the work here has been preoccupied with culture on the margin. Anything ‘transgressive gets lots of attention. The mainstream, that endlessly restless experiment in cultural invention, gets almost nothing at all. Much of this is now unrecorded and lost.
Here today and truly gone tomorrow. It is the fine details of lived experience that are most precious to our understanding of a cultural moment, and it is these details that are now systematically lost as we move briskly away from the present.
Someone has to write things down, and why not bloggers? The hero here is Samuel Pepys, the 17th century Londoner who won immortality for himself by keeping a detailed record of his life. We have a pretty good understanding of the Great Fire of London from various documents. But nothing captures the power and the panic of this event like the entry in Pepys.
Too often bloggers offer us “dear diary entries: went to the bank, bought a new album, phoned my friend and went for coffee. This is not just dreary, it is, for anthropological purposes, not very illuminating. What we need, or what the future historical will need, is something much more detailed.
More tomorrow when we will discuss how to document your fridge. (Sorry, internet access is been restricted. Appear now to be back in business.)
Grant, do you know about http://www.pepysdiary.com?
It’s Pepys’s’s’s’ work (sorry) turned into a blog.
Though the content of people’s “I went to the bank” entries is not illuminating, is it anthropologically interesting that people choose to write those entries and post them in public?
Sometimes the most significant part of a communication is not what the person says, but that the person choses to say it.
I somehow posted that last without my contact info. Here it is.
Steve, thanks for the head’s up. I have included it with thanks in the my post for today.
Dale, great point, the anthropological trick is to see every datum the world gives you, and to find the way to make it spill it’s cultural content. This question would require some ethnographic work, but my guess is that there are some people who are writing for friends, who wish to be kept up to day. But there also others who genuinely believe the finest details of their personal lives are fascinating to all. And this reveals perhaps a species of selfhood that deserves more study. It is impossible to imagine a Victorian sharing this view. How DID we get from there to here. It also suggests a new attitude towards what Goffman called the “management of impressions.” Once there was a strick front stage, back stage distinction. There were things we revealed about our selves and much we kept back. In the post war period we have steadily moved the dividing line here, so that now virtually everything is fit for public consumption. There is a bundle of new notions of self, private life, public life … in evidence here. Great spot! Best, Grant
One area of interest is the “blogger communities” – the small networks where a group of people blog, comment on each other, and have a common life in the “atom world” too. This makes the blog a window into their shared lives. You can find that in several settings. In Denmark (where I’m from) there is http://www.blogbot.dk which gathers a large number of danish blogs – mostly written in danish – and you can find several groups of bloggers there. That is quite interesting as I see it.
Another place where I’ve been lurking and participating a little is at http://www.blogshares.com, which is an online game – where you can also find a few small groups of bloggers/players who share a community, and who blog and comment each other. Unfortunately some of the older stuff has been lost in a major breakdown of the server. This is a little different though, as they share a common interest in the online game. Blogbot.dk is simply a list of updated blogs, and the people there are not about a certain game – although there are groups with shared interests like the renowned “reboot” conference and the “arena” shared office space initiative. There are other groups though which are not that high profile.
I’m certain there are a number of such places.
Gunnar, thanks for the head’s up. It’s a great idea for bloggers to monitor one another’s ethnographic efforts and to prompt one another to cover things they may have missed. Pepys worked alone and in secret. We can imagine what he might have accomplished if in touch with other like minded observers. Thanks, Grant