on research, cell phones, and the anthropological model
I'm behind again. The Infrastructural City is back in my lap for more finishing touches on the design so I've been working on that fiercely. One day you'll forgive me. I've also been working on new plans, which will be announced in detail here soon. Interested in a research-based internship on telecommunications and urban life over the summer?* Contact me.
A week ago the New York Times carried this lengthy article "Can the Cellphone Help End Global Poverty?" focusing on Nokia researcher Jan Chipchase. Jan certainly seems like a fascinating figure doing real important work and I'd love to meet him one day. If you haven't read the article, go do so, now.
The article also points toward a question I've been wanting to raise for a while: why is anthropology such a dominant model for apprehending contemporary culture? To be sure, anthropologists have long been an avant-garde of research, going out to study the unknown, their work sometimes applied for imperialist or corporate purposes. Anthropology's focus on the individual has also led to a political concern with preserving existing ways of life against the encroachments of top-down power and toward supporting everyday culture. More recently, anthropology has informed some of the best work in science and technology studies, demonstrating the radical transformations in life that are taking place today.
But anthropology is only one mode of understanding behavior and societal change. Sociology is another and has reacted in its own way, most notably by developing social network theory to deal with the vast changes in interpersonal relationships happening as these are maintained beyond simple propinquity.
What of history? To return to last week's theme, why is it that historians have ceded their need to understand the contemporary world to other disciplines? Where is the historiographic innovation needed to understand the contemporary? When will we begin the work on the theories of history necessary for understanding our world?
This is not a complaint against other disciplines but rather one against my own. Other fields have responded to the changes in the world around us. History is a laggard.
For all of its departures from traditional method, Blue Monday was a first attempt to deal with these conditions from a historical perspective. Watch this space for more.
* Disclaimer: Academe, I'm afraid, is a bit of a Franciscan venture or at least such has been my experience. Alas, we don't have any funding, but working at Studio-X is certainly cheaper than going to school and unlike a typical architect's office, I give my interns full credit on work they do and a lot of independence.