Tag Archives: anthropology

Making sure you get found on the web

It’s very nearly time for the ‘year in review’ articles and special supplements and I have come across an early one: the top 10 Internet searches of the year according to Yahoo.   You can see the full list  at http://yearinreview.yahoo.com/2010/us_top_10_searches#Top%2010%20Searches

but here are the top 3: BP Oil Spill, World Cup and Miley Cyrus.  Also in the Top 10 are 5 more celebrities, a ‘celebrity’-making show and the iPhone.  So my question to you is: do you want to be right up there in such elevated company?  In case you are wondering, the search data for 2010 for Google is not yet available, but Bing also has predominantly celebrities on its top searches list.  My own unscientific sample shows that the most popular of my blog posts is the one entitled ‘Avatar and Anthropology’ – and I bet you can tell which of the two words has got people enthralled, can’t you?!

So here’s the rub.  Entrepreneurs and consultants, retailers and, in short, all those  who need to have an online presence are told to do search engine optimisation, think carefully about keywords, write exciting copy, attend this-and-that sales or marketing course…  All with the ultimate purpose of being easily found by as many people as possible.  But what if people are not really searching for your serious-minded business anyway?  Do you stick to your small audience or do you jump on the bandwagon of popularity and use those trigger words creatively?  For instance, in my case, should I say something like: ‘Justin Bieber is a good example of globalisation and intercultural communication’ (and tag it under ‘Justin Bieber’ rather than ‘globalisation’ – which has a far smaller audience and a different spelling anyway in other parts of the world)?

The temptation is always there to broaden our appeal.  We even find ways to justify it to ourselves (and others) by saying that ‘research needs to come out of its ivory tower’.  Or ‘management gurus need to speak plain language instead of jargon’.  And I completely agree with both of these statements.  But it’s a question of how we do it.  I can think of a handful of people who do it well, but many more who don’t.  Can you?

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Avatar and Anthropology

I must be one of the last people to see Avatar (in full 3D, which made me quite dizzy), so I have missed out on some interesting discussions about its portrayal of indigenous people and military politics.  The most interesting of these is David Price questioning the ethics of ’embedded’ anthropology.   http://www.counterpunch.org/price12232009.html

However, I have some other bones to pick about the film’s portrayal of ‘the others’  and – spoiler alert – I may have some issues with the ending!

1) Why are tribal societies always portrayed as ‘primitive’?  And why are we fascinated with precisely those aspects of their culture that make them seem more childish and irrational?

2)  Why is primitive perceived as being closer to nature and therefore inherently better?  Hunters/gatherers can be quite ruthless plunderers of the forests as well.

3) Why are the Na’vi studied and examined like exotic butterflies to be pinned down, even by the scientists who are supposedly so empathetic?

4) Why are the Na’vi not invited to the negotiation table and treated as equals?  Because they do not have a programme for building nuclear weapons?

5) Can you think of one happy ending when a tribal culture has been discovered by us Westerners?  As such, I agree with the film’s expert consultant, Dr. Nancy Lutkehaus, that it is an elegy to a lost world… http://uscnews.usc.edu/arts/a_world_all_their_own.html

but the operative words here are ‘lost’ and ‘irrecoverable’.

One issue the film does address and which deserves to be discussed more is the ambiguous fascination and danger of ‘going native’  (although they do reduce it to sexual attraction). It’s not just anthropologists, but also many expats who, once they become familiar with a different interpretation of the world, feel so changed by it that they can never go back to being their old selves.  I happen to think that this is a very valuable quality in a human (or even alien) being, that this ‘switching between worldviews’ leads to really in-depth communication, understanding and connection.  But in a world where the majority value clear-cut answers and black-and-white solutions, this is clearly tricky terrain.

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Who wants to be serious all the time?

Some of my friends have told me:  ‘Sanda, we really like your blog, but do you have to be so earnest all the time?’  So, just for you, my dears, here is an easier read for a change.  I thought I would share with you some of my favourite quotes about culture, change and just getting along with people.

Culture Quotes:

Trust Gandhi to encapsulate in one quote all that my work and my company, The Culture Broker, is about:  ‘I do not want my house to be walled in on all sides  and my windows to be stuffed.  I want the cultures of all the lands to be blown about my house as freely as possible.  But I refuse to be blown off my feet by any.’

Octavio Paz, who was both a writer and a diplomat, also echoes my thoughts very well: ‘What sets the world in motion is the interplay of differences… Life is plurality, death is uniformity.’

Margaret Mead, of course, was an anthropologist, so not surprisingly she wrote: ‘If we are to achieve a richer culture, rich in contrasting values, we must recognize the whole gamut of human potentialities, and so weave a less arbitrary social fabric, one in which each diverse gift will find a fitting place.’

Quotes about Change:

Constant development is the law of life, and a man who always tries to maintain his dogmas in order to appear consistent drives himself into a false position.  (Gandhi again – that man seems to have produced one memorable quote after another)

The pessimist complains about the wind, the optimist expects it to change, the realist adjusts the sails. (W.A. Ward)

Our world has greatly changed; it has become much smaller.  However, our perceptions have not evolved at the same pace; we continue to cling to old national demarcations and the old feelings of ‘us’ and ‘them’. (Dalai Lama)

We are moving toward a global economy.  One way of approaching that is to pull the covers over your head.  Another is to say: It may be more complicated, but that’s the world I’m going to live in, I might as well be good at it. (Phil Condit – ex-CEO of Boeing)

And finally, on a more light-hearted note, here is a quote that seems to be doing the rounds on Flickr and blogs, but no one quite knows where it comes from:  ‘Every time I find the meaning of life, they change it.’

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