Purpose of Anthropology

The Bongobongo and Open Access

This was my second guest post for Savage Minds–please click The Bongobongo and Open Access to read the original post and the comment stream. The theme should be familiar to Living Anthropologically readers–it’s the whole reason I started this blog!

Recent comments on Hau and the opening of ethnographic theory remind me of what I always think of when I hear about the Bongobongo:

The time is gone when anthropologists could find solace in the claim that our main civic duty–and the justification for our public support–was the constant reaffirmation that the Bongobongo are “humans just like us.” Every single term of that phrase is now publicly contested terrain, caught between the politics of identity and the turbulence of global flows. Too many of the Bongobongo are now living next door, and a few of them may even be anthropologists presenting their own vision of their home societies, or studying their North Atlantic neighbors. The North Atlantic natives who reject them do so with a passion. Those who do accept them do not need anthropologists in the welcoming committee.
–Michel-Rolph Trouillot, Global Transformations (2003:137)
[see In Memoriam, Michel-Rolph Trouillot, 1949-2012 for reflections on the brilliant anthropologist who inspires so much of this blog.]

Trouillot is then outlining a vision of anthropological duties and risks, include making native voices more full interlocutors, identifying the ultimate targets of anthropological discourse, and publicizing the stakes of anthropological exchange.

To what degree do Open Access efforts–specifically the journal Hau–move us in that direction?

Allow me to first state that I am very encouraged by Hau and its potential. I also do not want to take away from the many interesting comments. However, from that discussion, I am left wondering:

  1. As Rex identified in his initial post, “I don’t see a role for indigenous anthropology (i.e. by and for indigenous anthropologists) in this program at all.” David Graeber challenged this, but Rex challenged back–and so it seems the question is still on the table: To what degree might open access also be a place where indigenous anthropologists, native voices, and internal others have a chance to become more full interlocutors in anthropological conversations?
  2. Are we “identifying clearly the ultimate listeners,” those Trouillot called “the Sepulvedas of our times” (2003:136)? Hau admirably aims to make “anthropology itself relevant again far beyond its own borders” (2011:viii) and is specifically launched against insularity and triviality. At the same time, the observation of “parochial irrelevance” is followed by lamenting that the Deleuzians, Speculative Realists, Lacanians, and Foucauldians are not taking classic anthropology into account, “a colossal failure of nerve” (2011:x). But are these the Sepulvedas of our times?
  3. Trouillot was not talking about Open Access, but he did discuss accessibility: “Media claims notwithstanding, the influence of academic research that could be labeled politically ‘progressive’ has decreased–if only because these works are increasingly inaccessible to lay readers” (2003:137). And so I here wonder–even if every article in American Anthropologist were declared Open Access today–to what degree would it make a difference for the Bongobongo and the Sepulvedas of our times? I do not mean to be too harsh–Trouillot recognized the need for “a technical vocabulary to which research contributes and without which it cannot be sustained” (2003:137, and of course Trouillot’s Global Transformations is rather out-of-reach for many lay readers)–but it is worth thinking about how Open Acess and accessibility could and should interact.

This also seems related to Rex’s analogy to Academia as Music Industry. “Platinum hits” may be rarer, but the irrepentant Sepulvedas of our times keep churning out multi-nationally financed blockbusters.

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