Posts tagged ‘Publishing’
In this blog, I want to discuss the detrimental environmental impact of anthropology. Two key activities come to mind: printed publications and air travel to conferences.
Some arguments supporting digital open source publications stress the high environmental impact of paper publishing due to the harvesting of forests. For instance Discover has estimated that putting each issue of their magazine into the hands of subscribers releases 2.1 tons of carbon into the atmosphere. Yet there are also concerns about the environmental footprint of electronic devices (see Low-Tech Magazine for a critical review). Eco-libris, an NGO which encourages people to plant a tree for every book they read (I have a lot of planting to do!), has provided a page dedicated to keeping track of some of these eco-debates regarding e-books vs. printed material. Providing people around the world with information that could be useful for improving their livelihoods is at the center of the debate regarding open access publishing. Integrating the “sustainability” or “eco-friendly” discourse into this discussion should, at the very least, be well founded through empirical studies. One of the possible options for such empirical studies is life-cycle assessment (LCA), sometimes called cradle-to-grave analysis. This method makes an attempt to consider all of the inputs from the environment and outputs to the environment that result from the production, exchange, consumption and disposal of a good. The company Verso Paper has actually done such a comparison of print and digital material for massive publications such as National Geographic. While there is much that we could learn from such a study about how we could reduce our negative impact on the environment, we also need to consider the positive social benefits which come from dissemination of digital information. Perhaps more widely disseminated information on the environment will help people find creative solutions to ecological degradation that may be incredibly difficult to predict or imagine for inclusion within an LCA study. Conversely, we need to be cautious about making assumptions about who has access to digital technology. While our globalizing world is becoming ever more connected through digital media, a large portion of the world’s poor cannot afford to purchase the basic hardware technology that would give them access to more freely disseminated information. There are no clear cut answers to solving these questions, but putting them into practice and further discussion could be useful for realizing a global Anthropology that is at least approaching Carbon Neutrality. These issues are important to discuss for any anthropological organizations or publications currently considering different options for disseminating their data and articles to the general public.
Second, there has recently been discussion regarding the massive carbon footprint that is emitted due to the hosting of conferences around the world. For instance, in Full Disclosure, I’ll be attending a conference in Montpellier next week, one in Edmonton in June, and assuming all goes well, back to Norway in September and San Francisco in November. Scholars fly from all over the world to attend international conferences every year, releasing a large amount of carbon emissions into the atmosphere. The David Suzuki Foundation has provided some suggestions about how to organize Carbon Neutral Conferences. This is a concern that many organizations, such as the American Anthropological Association’s Task Force on Climate Change, is taking quite seriously. One possible solution is even the dissolution of the international conferences altogether or truly reinterpreting the meaning of conference gatherings. For instance the Australian International Cultural and Educational Institute has recently sent out a call for papers for an Online Conference on Multidisciplinary Social Sciences. This could be a very simple way for scholars to record presentations, have them posted on Youtube and receive comments from colleagues all over the world without the unnecessary release of carbon emissions from airline travel. There are also suggestions of reorienting the field of presenting anthropology in formal settings at a regional scale, with the hope of reducing the need for members to use airline transportation to participate in the meetings. These are certainly provocative but also, from an environmental perspective, practical suggestions. Yet it is important for us to consider, once again, what would a Carbon Neutral Global Anthropology look like? Perhaps even moving beyond this question, we could even ask ourselves, what would a post-Peak Oil Anthropology look like? If regional conferences become the norm, how will that impact the current relationships between the regional anthropologies that already exist? And conferences really are only one aspect of this discussion. For those of us who grew up in the mountains of Western Montana, travel back and forth to the mountains of Western China for fieldwork, we probably need to be more conscious of our carbon footprint from air travel etc. Perhaps more importantly we also need to be aware of how such travel arrangements will continue to be impacted by Peak Oil. While my personal decision to move to Hong Kong for graduate school was based on an interest to engage more closely with Asian anthropology, I have to admit, being closer to the field seems like a more sustainable option now and for the future. These are realities that anthropological organizations and really the discipline as a whole should begin to consider.
While hopefully not showing my personal bias, I’d like to highlight the importance of the WCAA (and really the auspicious timing of its establishment) as a possible core for helping anthropology cope with these transitions. The WCAA could provide that vital connection of making sure that our findings and discussions within, say, East Asia could be heard and appreciated amongst anthropologists in the U.S. Additionally, it provides those of us in East Asia with a conduit for learning about Brazilian anthropology and how it might be helpful in our work here. A colleague of mine after reading a discussion about the abolition of large international anthropological meetings made an insightful point: this is where social media, such as Facebook or ResearchGate could become an essential tool for academic interaction. I could not agree more, although I would say that these issues require further study and pondering (perhaps even an LCA-study of airline flights vs. webcasts and teleconferences?) before we can truly envision a Carbon Neutral (or post-Peak Oil) Global Anthropology.
Edwin Schmitt, The Chinese University of Hong Kong
Add comment May 21, 2012
All over the world today, we see anthropologists struggling to publish in journals that are ranked highly on global citation indexes. Not every anthropologist in the world has to do this yet, but increasingly anthropologists from East Asia to Eastern Europe to Australia to Latin America are pressured in this way. One problem with this pressure is that the overwhelming majority of journals ranked highly on the global citation indexes are Anglo-American. These are often excellent journals. Still, global anthropologists are thereby in effect sucked back into the realm of Morgan and Tylor: “The West is Best! Conform to its standards or lose your job!”
Is there any way to escape this tyranny of citation indexes? In an immediate sense, no: if your job is on the line, then by all means do your best to publish in these journals, since the alternative may be driving a taxi or starving. From a longer view, though, there are indeed alternatives.
One alternative, if your native language is not English, is to have parallel writing tracks: write the stuff you need for your career in English, for the international journals, and write the stuff that is closest to your heart in your native language. As a Hong Kong ethnographer once told me, “I write articles in English that help my scholarly career but that no one reads; I write books in Chinese that many people read, but that have no relation to my scholarly career….At the end of the day, if I don’t have any journal publications with high impact factors, so what? If people in Hong Kong still read and learn from my writings, I’ll happily close my eyes and go to heaven.”
A second alternative is to write books rather than articles. Books are refereed in a different way than articles: if you can write only 8000 words, then you’ve generally got to conform to Western standards if you seek to publish in the Anglo-American core, but if you write books of 80,000 words, you’ll probably be given more leeway by referees to develop your own arguments and present your own ethnography in full. In our citation-index-driven anthropological world of today, books don’t count as much as articles, but they are read, and may allow you the freedom to be yourself. This is apparent in the books of Scandinavian anthropologists such as Ulf Hannerz and Thomas Hyland Eriksen, who have made their names largely through books published in the Anglo-American core.
A third alternative is more radical: forget about the pressures to write in top-ranked journals, and put yourself on line. Today there are some excellent websites where you can place your work to be read by other anthropologists, websites such as academia.edu and researchgate.edu, among others. Many anthropologists place their previously published work on these sites; but these sites can also be used to forego the publishing process altogether: put your work online instead of at the mercy of a journal. Perhaps the critiques you will receive from on-line readers will be more intellectually trenchant than those you might receive from referees! Don’t take this step if your career is on the line, for it may be suicidal. But if you can afford to, jump in.
Eventually, the world of anthropological publishing, as now driven by citation indexes, will collapse: we will all be on-line. That step will be the single most important step for the creation of a global anthropology. I suspect that won’t come for another twenty or thirty years, though. Meanwhile, let’s all do as much as we can to help erode the power of global citation indexes, which are in effect Morgan and Tylor risen from the dead.
The Chinese University of Hong Kong
6 comments April 12, 2012
Another point brought up at the American Anthropological Association meeting of worldwide journal publishers concerned writing, with several journal editors advocating “international English.” This sounds wonderful in principle. If every anthropological writer were to write in easy-to-understand English, then the anthropological playing field would be largely leveled, with native speakers and non-native speakers on a more even standing.
However, in all honesty, how many native speakers of English would be willing to write in international English, curtailing their jargon, limiting their circumlocutions, and simplifying their sentence structures? American academics, not least anthropologists, have a mortal fear of sounding stupid. One reason why anthropological writing is so often convoluted is to avoid revealing the relatively simple ideas one may be expressing—to avoid sounding stupid. In some English-language anthropological writing, linguistic complexity is necessary, given the subtlety of the ideas being expressed. In much more anthropological writing, the complexity seems unnecessary. Complexity may reflect the fact that the authors are bad writers. Or it may reflect an “emperor’s new clothes” syndrome, whereby authors cloak ideas in impenetrable prose because those ideas themselves are unclear, or else all too clear.
If anthropology journals were to mandate that writers write in a standard international English—something that has happened to a degree in medicine and in the hard sciences—the problem of anthropology’s lack of true globality would largely be solved. However, it is hard to imagine this happening. Instead, it seems more likely that a two-tiered class structure would emerge, of Americans and other native speakers writing in complex English, and foreign scholars writing in “international English.”
Ideally, international English might liberate American anthropology from its rhetorical excesses (a tendency I date from Geertz: earlier writers like Benedict and Boas, read retrospectively, are marvels of clarity). More likely, it would simply serve as a form of academic distinction. Those who can write in a complicated way will, and those who can’t won’t—but with only the latter being fully comprehended by many of their readers.
The Chinese University of Hong Kong
1 comment December 14, 2011
At the American Anthropological Association meeting in Montrealin November, I was heartened to see how much major American journals are internationalizing. The Editorial Boards of American Anthropologist and Current Anthropology, to name just two journals, increasingly bear the names of anthropologists from across the world. Of course this is a very good thing. But at the same time, that’s the easy part. The hard part of internationalizing anthropology is to make the content of these journals international.
This is problematic because of one simple fact. Anthropology is not the same in different places. What constitutes a good anthropology article for Americans is not necessarily the same as what constitutes a good anthropology article for Japanese, or for Indians, or for Brazilians, or for Eastern Europeans. This can be seen by reading the different flagship journals in different societies: this is one thing that our publication list on the WCAA website reveals. The topics, the approach, and the writing style of these different anthropologies significantly differ.
So, if American Anthropologist and Current Anthropology and other top American journals seek to internationalize, will they publish foreign anthropologists only to the extent that their articles are couched in American discursive terms, reading like American anthropology articles? This will in effect render these different anthropologists American. Or will they publish these articles even if they are not discursively American—not addressing American anthropological concerns, and not following the norms of American argumentation? This runs the risk of alienating these journals’ largely American audiences. Because anthropology is not the same the world over, there seems to be no way beyond this dilemma.
Some journals in the United States will probably remain unaware of this dilemma, implicitly assuming that American standards of anthropology are universal standards of anthropology, and publishing accordingly. Other journals will indeed understand; but there’s no obvious way out. These journals may attempt to take a middle line, both preserving standards and encouraging diversity. But where and how, exactly, is that line to be drawn?
In short, the era of internationalizing anthropology is only beginning. It will be a lot more difficult than most anthropology journal editors, and most anthropologists, now may realize. To repeat a refrain I’ve often stated, anthropology must leave the era of Morgan and Tylor, with anthropologists from rich countries studying cultures from poor countries, and dominating the discipline, to become instead a truly global discipline. That day will come, eventually; but it certainly won’t be easy.
The Chinese University of Hong Kong
Add comment November 27, 2011