ThisAnthroLife

Lessons on Social Difference from an Ancient Maya City | Ryan Collins | TEDxBrandeisUniversity

Hey Listeners, we wanted to share some news. As you have probably noticed, TAL has been slow to post as of late. Both Ryan and Adam have finished their dissertations (and Adam defends in one week!). But, TAL has remained busy behind the scenes developing and producing new content. In the meantime, we wanted to share that Ryan gave a TEDx Talk at Brandeis University in April. The talk is live on YouTube now! We’ve shared the video for you here, check it out.

TEDxBrandeisUniversity was great to let Ryan have this incredible opportunity. Sharing our passions and curiosity with public audiences is central to the goals of This Anthro Life. Ryan’s talk begins by asking what lessons we can learn from the ancient past on mediating social difference today. To answer this, Ryan defines social difference and how we recognize it in various forms. To balance social difference, Ryan also draws attention to the causes that bring communities together.

At the heart of this conversation are rituals of social solidarity – collective events which bring communities together under a common cause to express a core value. Today, such events are visible in the March for Science, the Women’s March, and other movements. Believe it or not, we see similar events having played out in the past as well. Studying such events, how rituals of social solidarity as well as communities changed, over long time scales can grant insight into how we can reflect on the causes which bring us together and inadvertently separate us.

If you enjoy this talk then you should also check out the other great talks from TEDxBrandeisUniversity which are all live now on the TEDx YouTube channel! This was an outstanding group and each of them deserve to be watched. Go check out the TEDx Youtube Chanel to show your support!

Contact Us

Contact Adam and Ryan at thisanthrolife -at – gmail.com or individually at adam -at- thisanthrolife.com or ryan -at- thisanthrolife.com

Find us @thisanthrolife on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram

You can download and listen to all our content on Apple Podcasts or on thisanthrolife.com  and be sure to leave us a review.

This Anthro Life is an official collaborator with the American Anthropological Association, The Society for Applied Anthropology, SAPIENS, and EPIC. Be sure to check them each out for more insightful and thought provoking anthropology content.

Patreon is a crowdfunding platform where you can directly support This Anthro Life. And we need your support. Patreon helps us keep going to pay for things like our website. We’ve brought you over 100 episodes so far to over 40,000 subscribers. Read more about TAL + Patreon here. We’re trying a first push to get 10% of our subscriber base to give a dollar or more a month to TAL. If you get something out of TAL, will you help put something back in? Think of TAL as your new favorite publicly funded media source.

Why the World Needs Anthropologists

We are excited to announce our new international media partnership with the Why the World Needs Anthropologists Conference. This is an amazing group of applied, teaching, and practicing anthropologists who are dedicated to demonstrating the value and applicability of anthropology to the contemporary world.

Their theme this year is “Design the Future” and focuses on the emerging field of Design Anthropology.

Check them out on social media, and we hope to see you in Lisbon this October!

Why the World Needs Anthropologists Conference Site

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Carving a Niche between Software and Social Science: Anthropology in Industry w/ Natalie Hanson

Design and anthropology have been seen together with increasing frequency over the last few years, but how do design and anthropology fit together in relation to industry? And, how does this pairing create insight? Adam and Matt (a guest host at This Anthro Life) are joined by Dr. Natalie Hanson to explore these questions and more.

Dr. Hanson has been working at the intersection of business strategy, technology, social sciences, and design for nearly 20 years. This gives her a relatively unique perspective on the worlds of anthropology and design. Hanson is also the founder of Anthrodesign, which started as a list serve and now has its own Slack channel (you could join too by following the instructions here).

At TAL we often ask our guests to reflect on their origin stories – what drew them in, what ideas shape their own, and how their development brought them to their current positions. With Hanson, reflecting on her professional and critical development couldn’t have been more insightful to the discussion of anthropology, design, and industry. In reflecting on her origin story, Hanson addresses a concern that so many friends and family have when one declares that they are going to study the social sciences and culture: why? Her parents, like so many others, met her choice to study religion and biblical literature at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts with skepticism and perhaps some despair. Hanson saw something in the social sciences though, that they can help you critically understand the way cultural systems drive relationships. This early exploration on Hanson’s part would become a foundation leading her to explore design and systems theory from a macro perspective in Antioch University at Seattle.

But, the macro perspective only covers one side of the story and often doesn’t leave room for thinking on the role of human agency. This intersection between large scale social phenomena and individual action is where anthropology tends to reside. It was working with academic computing at Mills College in Oakland, California where Hanson had her first introduction to anthropology. This prompted her to think on culture and social complexity. But, it was in visual anthropology where she recognized that cultures tend to tell stories in particularly charged ways. Art, being a very charged means of showing narrative and expression, is the product of culture. It’s easy to recognize this fact when walking through a museum and seeing art overtly grouped not only by culture but by time periods. Like art, all cultural products can be thought of as complex forms of insider communication. For Hanson, it was then obvious that software too is a product of the culture which developed it.

Typically, anthropologists tend to view culture on large scales within relatively bounded frameworks as a starting point. From there, the boundaries can blur as smaller scales come into focus. Work spaces, as such, form cultures through the interactions between colleagues and the actions taken to create and maintain bonds. How workspace cultures operate will undoubtedly shape the final product a group seeks to create. Today, anthropologists working in diverse industries apply this thinking to distinct groups within corporations as well as to consumers and the various walks of life they may be coming from.

Reflecting on the insights above, Hanson eventually received a PhD at Temple University for anthropology with a focus on visual communication. Her focus in going to Temple was to maintain a commitment to creativity and expression which she brought to SAP when she started a UX (user experience) team. This experience also helped Hanson understand the use value of learning to speak at different levels within a corporation, to find common ground on ideas and turn them into actions. Believe it or not, anthropology can be of help here.

A philosophy that Hanson was clear to articulate from an industry perspective is, ‘If you’re going to build good software you need to get out of the office and talk with people, walk the shop floor, talk with friends, and family.’ After all, to do ethnography is to ‘hang out’ and get to know people. It may come as a surprise, but for different industries to take on ethnographic thinking is a relatively recent trend.

For anthropologists, the general idea of learning about people’s’ wants and desires through ethnographic methods (i.e. hanging out) is nothing new. But acting on these insights – to help make and tailor a product, optimize a business team, or shape the user experience of software – is. The trade off though, as Matt points out, is that ethnography takes time. Getting the most ideal rich forms of data can come at the cost of valuable production constraints. Likewise, without much time to invest, the ethnographic information collected will run the risk of being thin and less impactful. For an anthropologist, this means their data will be limited in true depth or understanding of a social group, which can lead to lackluster insights. For a designer, the consequence of creating a time saving product could be widely missing the mark on its use value. In this way, there is a sense of a goldilocks zone of thick description and timely production being hinted at in the conversation that can be difficult to find.

With ethnographic research there is always a question of access that can be thought of in some ways as community trust and rapport with the researcher. To build trust, one needs to start small with the basics. This is certainly not the most exciting enterprise. While Hanson recognizes that webpage design and satisfaction surveys are not ethnographies in full, this work lays the foundation for trust in time. Insight comes from long term studies, recognizing trends, patterns, and experiences. This helps translate into shorter term studies with people where the distance between being an insider and an outsider (or an innie and outie) is minimized.

The final insights from the conversation with Hanson have to do with language and the needs of stakeholders. In other words, how to translate information from one group to the next. For Hanson, moving to midwest from the east coast presented yet another lesson in the value of learning to speak with others. Yet, in her professional work, the issue of translation comes in building dialogues between teams of engineers, product managers, UX’ers, designers, and those working through quality assurance. The complexity entailed by mediating language between distinct specialist groups is compounded by the fact that there is no handbook for doing so. Likewise, some words don’t always translate well between groups. Software means one thing for a developer and another for a consultant. This reflects well on jargon terms for anthropologists like ritual, which could mean brushing your teeth, observing a religion at a certain time and place, a complex web of actions, or, as it is so often used by archaeologists, a colorful way of saying, “I have no clue what this is.”

Speaking to the complex dynamics of translation, Hanson reflected on the relatively slow way in in user experience is impacting healthcare. When UX is directly impacting not only health but all the entangled issues surrounding health policies and practices, progress can be very slow. App developers might want to create a blanket product, a one size fits all solution. Yet, the trouble in creating any app in a vacuum, especially a health related one, is that behavioral and cultural distinctions need to be kept in mind. Such issues can easily be compounded by diseases like diabetes, where individual behavior, cultural ways of using apps as well as receiving healthcare, and genetics have important roles in a perspectives app’s success and applicability. It is incredibly complex to navigate these environments and doing so requires a human element.

This reflects on the value of anthropology in recognizing human issues in broad arenas. A researcher may not always have the perfect conditions, questions, or responses. Data is often imperfect as is the research. As Adam points out, recognizing this helps ground the reality of anthropological work in general.

To find out more on the benefits of bringing anthropology and design together to solve the toughest problems in business, check these links out here and here. You can find more information on some of the discussions in this episode here as well:

 

Contact Adam and Ryan at thisanthrolife -at – gmail.com or individually at adam -at- thisanthrolife.com or ryan -at- thisanthrolife.com

Find us @thisanthrolife on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram

You can download and listen to all our content on Apple Podcasts or on from the TAL episode archives

This Anthro Life is an official collaborator with the American Anthropological Association, The Society for Applied Anthropology, SAPIENS, and EPIC. Be sure to check them each out for more insightful and thought provoking anthropology content.

Patreon is a crowdfunding platform where you can directly support This Anthro Life. Patreon helps us keep going. We’ve brought you over 95 episodes so far and over 35,000 of you have joined up. Read more about TAL + Patreon here. We’re trying a first push to get 10% of our subscriber base to give a dollar or more a month to TAL. If you get something out of TAL, will you help put something back in? Think of TAL as your new favorite publicly funded media source.

A Business for the Future? Redefining Value, Quinoa and the Quest of Pachakuti Foods w/ Alexander Wankel

We’re back in Peru! Join Adam and special guest Alexander Wankel of Pachakuti Foods for a conversation about the future of food production, agrobiodiversity, sustainability, and keeping traditional culture alive. All from the view point of quinoa.

Pachakuti Foods is a brand-new startup focusing on creating a market for sustainable, pro-farmer and agrobiodiverse quinoa. It’s better for small-scale farmers, the environment, and for fighting climate change. Check out the project, and if you like it, support them on Kickstarter here!

Pachakuti Foods Website

Overlook Quinoa Aynok'a Photo: Colin Peacock

Overlooking a Quinoa Aynok’a Photo: Colin Peacock

 

Photo: Colin Peacock

Alex and Adam Prepping for the Podcast. Photo: Colin Peacock

Mate: The Drink Beyond a Drink w/ Guilherme Heiden

Bag of Coca and Gourd of Yerba Mate

Coca and Mate by Guilherme Heiden and Adam Gamwell

Mate (pronounced mah-tay), or more commonly known as yerba mate for English speakers, is an herbal tea drink native to parts of South America – Southern Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, and Paraguay – where local people drank it for thousands of years. The incredible history of mate follows Guarani indigenous legend, the rise of Jesuit colonialism, Gaucho (cowboy) culture in Southern Brazil, and continues its rise in global popularity.

Many see this drink as beyond a drink – aside from its colorful and unique drinking apparatus made from a dried-out gourd and metal straw. Mate is known to break down barriers between people of different groups, classes, ethnicity, even religions (trust us, you’ll learn about this one).

Join Adam and special guest Guilherme Heiden, a Southern Brazilian mate enthusiast and expert, coming to you live from fieldwork in Peru, as they explore the fascinating, and thirst-quenching world of mate.

Guil and I put together a demonstration video of how to prepare mate too! This is the first in our new series of video podcasts and more! Check out the video on youtube here

~~cheers!

Adam and Guilherme Enjoying Mate on the Mountain Top

Adam and Guilherme Enjoying Mate on the Mountain Top

Happy #WorldAnthropologyDay! Celebrate with these great episodes! #WorldAnthroDay

Support TAL ApeHappy World Anthropology Day!

To celebrate #WorldAnthropologyDay we here at TaL have curated some of our favorite past episodes covering how we approach anthropology and where we see the discipline going in the future! Check out the episodes and as always, let us know what you think.

What are anthropology’s strengths, weaknesses, and where are we going next?? Each episode linked below.

Ep 60 Anthropology without Borders? Bringing the Study of People to the People: On the rise of applied, public, design, and open anthropologies

Ep 59 Return of the Ethnographers: On Fieldwork, what is it like to be in the thick of it?

Ep 39 The Politics of Difference: How do we make our categories?

Ep 25: Why we Do What we Do: Reflecting on how anthropology can be effective in today’s world

Remember to subscribe on iTunes, SoundCloud or Stitcher!

Webpages:

Anthropology without Borders?

Return of the Ethnographers

The Politics of Difference

Why we Do What We Do

Anthropology without Borders? Bringing the Study of People to the People

Colorful Post-itsJoin TAL as they explore the meaning and movements behind the buzz words that shape anthropology when it reaches beyond the classroom. Applied, Public, Design, and Open Anthropology. What are they, how do they work, and what for? Can anthropology intervene and create change in the contemporary world? On this episode Ryan, Aneil, and Adam explore ways to make anthropological thinking more public, accessible, and connected to the everyday lives and experiences that make the discipline so important. More than just a way to describe the world, we ask what it means for anthropology, in the words of Margaret Mead, to make the world safe for difference.

History, Power, and a Mapuche Bible: A Shaman’s Story with Ana Mariella Bacigalupo

Join TAL’s Aneil Tripathy and Ryan Collins as they interview Ana Mariella Bacigalupo of SUNY Buffalo. Ana’s discussion of her research on Mapuche shamans takes us on an exciting journey, full of emotion, struggle, hope, and passion that keeps you wanting more. For the Mapuche, shamanism is as much a part of daily life as farming and state politics in Chile. Like cultures the world over, the Mapuche understand that there is power in words, in history, in how the past is given life. Yet, Mapuche understandings of history and literacy are unique and Ana shares with us why this detail is so important.

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Return of the Ethnographers

Start your week off by tuning in to the TAL crew, the entire TAL crew, back from fieldwork (albeit briefly) as we talk about our experiences in ethnography, archaeology, and excessive note taking! In this exciting episode Amy, Adam, Aneil, and Ryan all share what fieldwork is for them, fun experiences, and the challenges of traveling to new social worlds. This is anthropology in action.

© Ben Gebo Photography

© Ben Gebo Photography