Category Archives: Continuities

A wee hiatus

Picture_077I didn’t think it was possible to get this tired, but after several weeks of ethnographic interviews in Hamburg, Frankfurt, Berlin, Brussels, Paris, Mexico City, Guadalajara and Monterey, I have discovered my limit. 

I have a couple more weeks of interviews coming up  (in Warsaw, Lodz, and Krakow), and I think a small break in blogging is called for. 

If I can post from Poland, I will. 

London in June

Interesting Today is going to be hectic with interviews and travel. 

I hope to post but it will be late, and it might not happen at all. 

In the meantime, I hope I will see you in London on June 16th at Russell Davies’  interesting2007 conference.

The speaker list is here

The Wiki for the conference is here.

I thank Russell for the chance to speak.   He’s encouraging me to talk about the time I was on Oprah.  This would  oblige me to talk about the time I nearly lost control of my bladder on national television.  I don’t know.  I’m ambivalent.  I’ll think of something.  Hope to see you there.


McCracken, Grant.  2007.  On Oprah.  In Culture and Consumption II.  Bloomington: Indiana University Press. 

We are 800

Birthday_cake Today marks the 800th post for This Blog Sits At the Intersection of Anthropology and Economics.

Shareholders should know that growth is "trending upwards." According to Technorati, there are 3,750 links from 436 blogs.  We have a couple of thousand page views on most days.  We have 4400 comments  and 388 trackbacks.  We broke 1 million words, finally. 

Mrs. Burton, I regret to say, is no longer with us.  (Normally, Mrs. Burton sees to the celebration, carbonated soft drinks, fireworks, that sort of thing.)  Under the stage name, Flirtin’ Burton, she is now managing a roller derby league in Des Moines.  "Not very different from managing things at This Blog Sits At," she tells me. 

To those who read and those who comment, my devout thanks.   We are nothing without you. 

Please help II

EuropeI leave tonight for 3 or 4 weeks in Europe and am hoping to recruit 9 readers of this blog as expert respondents. 

What I am looking for are people who can tell me about food, culture, Europe, home life, cooking, meal time, the family, and the present state of consumer taste, preference and inclination. 

The interview will take a couple of hours.  The fee is $200.oo American.  And it should be an opportunity for a rousing conversation.  Interviews will be conducted in Germany (week 1), Belgium (week 2) and France (week 3). 

Generally speaking, I am looking for account planners, social scientists, bloggers, journalists, trend watchers…that kind of person.

So if you are expert on these matters, please let me know.   I only have 3 slots for each country, so please forgive if I am unable to include you in the research project. 

Other readers:

It’s going to be a busy time.  Please accept my apologies if blogging proves intermittent. 

A Valentine 30 days late

My new ThinkPad arrived today, and in stolen moments, I’ve been configuring it.  It really is a joy.  It’s slipper light, the key board is perfect, the screen is miraculous, the hard drive, finally, capacious, the configuration software intelligent, the battery trans-Atlantic. I know this is irrational, but I feel about ThinkPad the way people used to feel about their Fords, their Coca-Cola, and their Levi’s.  I’m telling you, I am this far from burning a logo into my arm.

Reading Week(s)

1026_canadian_pacific_travel_by_train_8x I am going off line for a couple of weeks. 

I have a couple of books that need finishing and a trip to India in the works. 

I will be back on line December 18, 2006. 

May I take this opportunity to thank people who have left comments? These comments are, many of them, wonderfully good, much better than the posts they adorn. 


Grant (McCracken)

We are 700!

Birthday_cake_1 This is the 700th post for This Blog Sits At the Intersection of Anthropology and Economics.

Thank you very much to TBSA readers for their 3729 comments and many off line encouragements.  I once heard someone say that TBSA had the smartest readers in the blogosphere.  I believe this is true. 

Other stats:

There are now around 800,000 words in 700 posts.

According to Technorati, there are 2328 links from 368 blogs. 

Thanks very much to everyone who has participated with great comments, questions, and challenges. 

Normally, when TBSA reaches a milestone, I ask visitors to keep their ticket stubs and claim a free beverage (medium) of their choice in the lobby.   Mrs. Burton has been rethinking the "whole idea" of "sugary drinks" and Pomegranate juice will be served instead.  We are deeply sorry. 

Oh, and thanks to BusinessWeek Online for their attention and these kind words:

Because Grant McCracken — an anthropologist and corporate ethnography consultant — is witty, opinionated, and razor sharp. "This blog sits at the intersection of anthropology and economics," he announces to his readers. And it does. His posts filter marketing and commerce through a cultural lens and vice versa. In the process, he offers smart takes on everything from "chunky" markets (the growth in the audience that lies between mass consumers and "long tail" niches) to the branding quandary Apple (AAPL ) faced when it put Intel (INTC ) chips into its Macs.


McGregor, Jena.  2006.  Why Read It.  BusinessWeek Online.  October 2, 2006. 

On the Guangzhou – Portland express

Dscn3749I am leaving China today and I’ll be in Portland for the weekend if anyone wants to get together for coffee.

Ethnography fans, please come to the EPIC conference being staged by Intel in Portland.  You can get the full details here.  If you can make it, I’m speaking Monday morning. 

Speaking of ethnography, this was a bruising trip.  I am not sure my ethnography will ever be the same. 

The art of ethnography includes two very different kinds of questions (at a minimum). 

The first class of question ask for detail, lots of detail, sometimes excrutiating detail.  These are "beater questions."  Their job is to flush out opportunities to ask the second class of questions.   These are opportunities to gather not detail but the stuff of culture: categories, rules, assumptions, conventions, concepts, notions, and so on.

One member of the team got swept up in the detail questions…and so preempted the interview with them that it was no longer possible to capture the hidden world from which these details spring.  Anthropology believes in thoroughgoing specifications of ethnographic detail, but this was a brute, unrelieved empiricism and really bad methodology.

The image:

My tribute to bean counters.  Things for sale in a "wet-market."  (Click on the image if you want, yes, more detail.)

Blogging mechanics

Kitten_1 Every post is a bet.  We have only so much time to write the thing.  So we want to choose our topic carefully. 

Today, I invested in a topic that did not pay out, that I could not "bring home."  Bad luck.  I have 9 minutes before I do my next interview. 

This means I am out of luck unless I am prepared to lower my standards and that phony post modern strategy, writing about the difficulty of posting.  Novelists and film makers are shameless when it comes to this strategy.  And with this post, I  join their shameful ranks.

The other strategy, and this one is ancient and well tested: pictures of kittens!  This one shows a kitten that lives at the bottom of my sister’s garden in Vancouver Island.  She tells me that the Pig has been awarded honorary kittenness and is included in most play activities. 

Ok, have to go. 

What I did on my summer vacation (or, “may I have your passport, please?”)

Erna_1 On my summer vacation, I went looking for Erna Schonwald. 

I’ve wanted to collect for some time now.  My father collected Inuit carvings.  Will Straw, a friend in Montreal, turned eBay into a collecting machine, making one brilliant acquistion after another.  The two of them made it look like fun. 

I especially liked the idea  of collecting, the solitary pleasure, the little universe you build purchase by purchase, the way things you never knew or cared about suddenly assume "must have" status.  But what to collect?  Rugs, watches, wine, movie posters, motel coasters, first edition noir?  Nothing appealed to me. 

Then I came across Erna’s passport on eBay.  This, I thought, this I would like to have.  It came in the mail, paper in paper.  The passports of 1920s Austria were delicate things, green ink on beige paper, filled now with forms, stamps, signatures, and of course Erna’s photograph, from which she looks out at us steadily, apparently thinking something funny and kind.

My German isn’t very good.  So the passport didn’t give away very much.  Erna was born in late October in 1894.  The passport was issued in 1922.  In between, what?  It looks as if Erna gives her profession as a private beautician, but I could be wrong.

Lots of questions.  Why did she leave?  Where did she go?  How did she fund her trip?  What happened next?

My sister said, "look at the Ellis Island website," and this says Erna arrived in the US in 1923.  She was sponsored by her brother Philippe who arrived the year before.  Philippe is described as "Dr." Schonwald and he had been sponsored by his cousin, A.F. Low in Seattle.  Ah, so that’s where the money came from. 

But more questions.  Why was a doctor leaving his homeland in 1922…at 47 no less?  The early twenties seems a little early to be escaping anti-semitism, but then my German history isn’t much better than my German. 

Then my sister discovered a reference to a Dr. Schonwald, President of the East Point Oysters Company of Stanwood Washington.  What are the chances, she asked me, that there were two Dr. Schonwald’s in the area in the period?  So, what, Dr. Schonwald was a biologist?
And then I discovered that someone has digitized the Seattle phone book for 1923.  (I mean, is the Internet not the greatest thing in the history of the universe?)  This calls "Philipp" a physician.  And it says that his office was at 227 Cobb building.  Using these key words in Google, we learn that the Cobb was built in 1910 with the purpose of offering "200 of Seattle’s best doctors and finest dentists the choicest office possible."   Ok, so he’s a not just a doctor but a man of substance.  (So what about the oyster thing again?)

If we consult the 1930 census, we discover that Philippe has a wife, Peggie, and two daughters, Lurlie, 15, and Rose, 12 and a Norwegian servant called Matilda.  These means, among other things, that when Philippe came to America, he was travelling with two children under the age of 10.

The census also gives us a glimpse of Erna (mistransliterated as "Ema") as a boarder.  Oh, my heart sank a little.  Erna would now have been 35.  The census says that she was a bookkeeper.  Finally, it gives her birthplace as "Vatican City State."  My heart rose.   There is no way that this is a misprint.  There’s no way the census taker misunderstood.  This is either an extravagant act of the imagination or the truth.   

The 1930 census says that Erna was boarding with Ariston Wchwertner, but it is clear that this too is a misprint.  Erna was boarding with a "Schwertner," with whom she shared German as a first language.  Also, it turns out that Schwertner was working as a nurse in a doctor’s office, and now of course we wonder whether Erna’s might have been a bookkeeper in same.

While I was searching for Schwerter, a familiar name popped up: Philipp Schonwald.  This is the man who sponsored her journey from Guafenstein, Tchecho Slowakei, via Surabaya, Indonesia to San Francisco and then Seattle. 

This means that Erna is merely listed as a boarder.  She is in fact living with a woman who is almost certainly a relative.  And chances are now good that she works with this woman as well, which suggests that she is working for her brother.  Ah, Erna safe in the bossom of her family.

After that, the trail goes cold.  I can’t find any more about her.   Thoughts, speculations, more information, any of this would be most appreciated.  Does anyone have an idea why Dr. Schonwald left in 1922 or Erna left in 1923?  What little I know tells me that the Jewish community had been leaving since the 1860s.  But what would have persuaded a physican to move his family and two small children across first an ocean and then a continent?   But most of all, was Erna born in the Vatican City?  Or was this a brilliant lie? 

I ran out of vacation.  It’s up to you. 

Sanya, the wonder cat

Dscn1485 Sanya is a short haired domestic who lives in a high rise on the far southern edge of Moscow with a lovely women in her 30s, her husband and a couple of kids, two boys, 3 and 5. 

Sanya is now 15.  This is his triumph against the odds.

When Sanya was 5, he fell from the balcony and 15 stories to the ground.  He is completely deaf and breaths with difficulty.  Otherwise, he is fine.  Actually, he is much better than fine.  He comes right up to you, and looks into your eyes the way we will stand in front of a refrigerator with the door open, taking a catalogue, interested in some things, dubious about others, curious in a dispassionate way that is a little unnerving.  We don’t expect that the refrigator will notice or care about our examination.  Neither does Sanya.  He’s just looking around, seeing who’s home. 

At 15, Sanya is roughly the same age as post Soviet Russia.  Not that he’s a metaphor or anything.  None of that Orwellian nonsense for Sanya. Well, unless you take the fact that he survived an event that would have killed any other cat in the universe.  Or the fact that he perseveres in spite of the injuries inflicted upon him.  And the fact that he remains implacably interested in the world whether or not the world welcomes or returns that curiosity.  Ok, now that you mention it, there are a couple of similarities.

American soldier

Fisher_house What is the best way to honor Memorial Day?  For me, it’s to honor sacrifice. 

Here is a passage from the blog American Soldier.  It’s written by a man who has returned from service and is now struggling to restore his life.

Where does one begin to recoup from a war? So many people say that by going to a counselor and talking about it that you will be ok.

“It’s going to take time.”

I cannot put it all into words. I am having trouble with normalcy.  I try very hard to occupy myself.  Heck I even got myself a few hobbies now.  However, I feel out of place.  I have flashbacks and can’t sleep at night.  When I finally get to sleep I am immersed in a nightmare.  The memory’s of the environment that nearly killed me more than once haunts me now that I am home and safe.  The nights are the worst for me.  I am alone and who can I really talk to when its 2am and I’m wide awake?  I mean I could wake my wife up but it’s not fair to her if I did this every night.  So I just waste away afraid to go to sleep.

What in the hell did I do to deserve this?  I nearly died for my country and I’m left to endure this post traumatic stress disorder.  I am stronger than this but I cannot defeat it, there is not operation order for this.

Some of the things that suck are as simple as leaving my house.  Why? I feel like I might get blown apart from an incoming mortar round.  All stemming from when I was in Iraq and the constant incoming we would receive.  Going to take a shower was dangerous.  And yes, people did get killed while taking showers from incoming.

One way to help honor American service man and women is to support Fisher House, an organization that aids families as they gather to comfort wounded soldiers.  You may make contributions to Fisher House here


Anonymous.  2006.  Welcome to the Real Suck.  American Soldier.  April 19, 2006.  here.


Mysteries for Martians


Preparing Transformation for publication, I am having to make painful decisions.  In particular, I have to jettison the opening essay, "More Mysteries for Martians."  I read it now and it just feels ostentatiously 90s, a little self indulgent, uncompromisingly vague. 

So it has to go.  It’s not a piece of crap or anything.  In fact, I like the way its written, but it does not capture the reader’s attention with the "short, sharp shock" now called for in a "signal rich" world.  Oh, let’s face it.  I was trying to be a Mr. Smarty Pants at the very point in a book when you are supposed to be unmistakeably clear.

Here is the offending, now orphaned, essay.  See what you think.

More Mysteries for Martians

It’s a dark and stormy night.  Leaves spin in little circles.  Light fills the sky.  A ship sets down beside us.  We are in the carefully modulated company of an interplanetary other.[i]   

The holograms shimmer.  After careful investigation, our Martian visitors have 3 questions:  Why was Whitney Houston chosen as the Statue of Liberty?  Why was a man from 20th century California living in 18th century England? Why are living rooms being driven around Shanghai on the back of flat bed trucks?

The Martians have been reviewing the rededication of the Statue of Liberty on July 4th, 1986.  At the high point of the occasion, Whitney Houston sang The Greatest Love of All.  The festival was, the Martians could tell, important.  It was a chance to refurbish a national icon and the values it stood for. “Give me your tired, your poor/Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”   

The Martians thought Ms. Houston made a stunning Lady Liberty.  There was no disagreement there.  But The Greatest Love of All they found puzzling.  Is this really, they wanted to know, a song for immigrants?   

I decided long ago never to walk in anyone’s shadow
If I fail, if I succeed, at least I lived as I believed
No matter what they take from me, they can’t take away my dignity
Because the greatest love of all is happening to me.
I found the greatest love of all inside of me.[ii]

The Martians aren’t judgmental.  (They are, they understand, from Mars.)  They are prepared to accept the Houstonian proposition, that the greatest love is self love.  But they couldn’t help wondering whether this was the right choice for the occasion?   America celebrates nationhood with a song about individualism?  Lady Liberty sings a song…to herself? 

We make the usual spectacle of our ignorance.  “What Whitney was saying, really, was…umm…Lee Iacocca organized the thing, that’s important…probably…and basically, you see, basically…” 

“Thank you,” interrupts a hologram, “that was scintillating.  We have a second question.  What was Dennis Severs doing living in 18th century London?”

Dennis Severs lived, until his death in 2000, in London’s east-end.  His house had no running water, no electricity, no toilet, no shower, no toaster, no TV, no modern conveniences of any kind.  Mr. Severs lived with his butler in a stone house and, for most intents and purposes, the 18th century.[iii] 

The Martian wants to know why a man would forsake the conveniences of the present day for a London of perpetual semi-darkness, coal fires, resentful servants, and none of the communication marvels of the moment, no telephone, no fax machine, no computer, no vivaphone…never mind that last one.  Why would a man give up his age for a vastly cruder one?  “Besides,” says a hologram, “he was from Escondido.  We looked it up.”    

Mysterious, indeed.  The obvious answer, “Escondido can do strange things to a man,” doesn’t help very much.  If Dennis were mad, it was a disciplined madness.  And if it was merely a sustained form of dress-up, surely it would’ve ended years ago.  To the Martian eye, Mr. Severs had reconstructed the 18th century thoroughly and thoughtfully, and lived in it with no obvious signs of distress. 

As usual, we’re flabbergasted.  We would like to make ourselves useful…but, well, Mr. Severs is a mystery to us, too.  “And … you … er … what was the third question, again?”

Since they talked to us last, the Martians have been to Shanghai.  (If they can pick a Dennis Severs out of London, they’re bound to notice, like, China.)  They went to the Bund, that great wall of banks built some 70 years ago by Western powers on the city’s harbor.  Carefully disguised (as Dutch tourists), they climbed the semaphore tower (pictured) that used to warn ships of the approach of the deadly typhoon.   

And they looked down. They looked into the traffic that courses ceaselessly below the tower.  And they saw something they hadn’t seen before.  They saw open trucks filled with furniture.  And not furniture higgledy-piggledy but carefully laid out: a sofa against one wall of the truck bed, a card table in one corner.  Still more interestingly, the furniture was occupied.  A man was reading a magazine on the sofa.  At the table, men played cards. 

The Dutch tourists saw truckload after truckload of men living the good life at 40 m.p.h., apparently at home and at leisure when actually at work and at large.  A Martian inquisitor asks us, “go figure.”  (They know how much we like metaphor.)

Silence falls on our leaf swept corner.  Time passes.  We figure.  Nothing happens, really.  No, we don’t know what the Chinese are doing.  We don’t know why Lady Liberty sang a song to herself.  We haven’t a clue what Dennis Severs was up to.  Dusk draws down.  We stare at one another.  Something flickers on. 


[i] Readers of The Culture by Commotion series will recognize the Martian theme.  I gave a public lecture at the Royal Ontario Museum on the publication of the first volume, and afterwards a pleasant looking middle aged man approached me and said, “I was glad to hear you mention them.”  “Yes, well.” I murmured, desperately trying to think who “them” might be.  “Perhaps you’d like to join us,” he said significantly, “we go out to wait for them.  I’m sure they’d like to meet you.”   

[ii] Masser, Michael and Linda Creed.  1985. The Greatest Love of All on the album Whitney Houston, copyright Golden Torch Music Corp (ASCAP)/Gold Horizon Music Corp (BMI).

[iii] Dennis Severs’ house was at 18 Folgate Street, Spitalfields, London, E1 6BX.  He received visitors the first Sunday and Monday of every month until his death in January of 2000.  Martin, Douglas. 31 January 2000. Dennis Severs, Who Lodged London’s Ghosts, Dies at 51. New York Times. sec. A, col. 1,2, p. 25.  A similar experiment for Britain’s Channel 4 television, when “the Bowlers, a thoroughly modern 1999 family, were transported back to 1900 to live in a house restored to the exact specifications of the late Victorian era.  They lived there for three months with no central heating, no refrigeration, no detergent and no penicillin, exposed to every detail of turn-of-the-century living from cleaning the cutlery with brick dust to shaving with a cut-throat razor.”  Thanks to Leora Kornfeld for alerting me to the program and the website.

We are 600!

Birthday_cakeThis is the 600th post for This Blog Sits At the Intersection of Anthropology and Economics.

Thank you very much to TBSA readers for their 3130 comments and many off line encouragements.  I once heard someone say that TBSA had the smartest readers in the blogosphere.  I believe this is true. 

Other stats:

There are now over 700,000 words in 600 posts.

According to Technorati, there are 1009 links from 290 blogs. 

Thanks very much to everyone who has participated with great comments, questions, and challenges. 

Normally, when TBSA reaches a milestone, I ask visitors to keep their ticket stubs and claim a free beverage (medium) of their choice in the lobby.  But Mrs. Burton is sick today and the confection stand is closed.  We are deeply sorry. 

Ok, enough self (and reader) congratulation.

Here are the three pieces of software without which TBSA could not be written.  I pass them along as a way of reciprocating for the contributions of fellow bloggers.  (More probably, and as usual, I will find that many of you are way ahead of me, and I will be learning about new software shortly!)

Clipmate 7.  This is a great little program for gathering materials as you move through an article or post.  It spares me  the laborious copy-move-paste, copy-move-paste regime that is otherwise required. It clips images well, which is sometimes useful.  The software is cheap and downloadable here.

MindManager’s MindJet: This is a great way of capturing ideas quickly and getting them into a visual array that makes it easier to think about them all at once.  It’s expensive but worth every penny.  I now use it for everything.  The Mindmanager website is here.

Post2Blog: This is a little word processor for blog posts.  I use it only because the TypePad word processor is so squished, so "letter box."  Post2Blog is not perfect and if anyone knows of a better one, I would love to hear of it.  See the website here.

Vacation notice

0005Pam and I are going on vacation and I will be out of range and not posting again until January 10. 

Everyone here at This Blog Sits At The Intersection of Anthropology and Economics wishes you and yours happy holidays and a wonderful new year.  Please accept our best wishes! 

Oh oh.  The boys in the lab have found a stack of 45s and it sounds like they’re breaking out the beakers.  I better go.  Best, Grant